MIAMI (AP) - Former President Bill Clinton announced an agreement with several of the nation's leading food manufacturers on Friday to provide healthier school lunch options, such as lean proteins and pizzas crusts with whole grains.
Speaking to students at Edison Middle School in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, Clinton said seven companies had agreed to increase the sale of foods that meet science-based nutrition standards to at least 50 percent of school sales within five years. The manufacturers have also agreed to set prices for the foods that are no higher than less healthy choices.
The pact is expected to provide healthier options for 30 million students nationwide, including 14 million in the country's free and reduced price lunch program. Manufacturers will provide options similar to what is currently offered, but with healthier ingredients, and offer new choices.
"I am convinced that over the next five years we're going to improve the health of 30 million students. That they'll have longer, better lives. That they'll learn more in school. And their parents can sleep easier at night," Clinton said. "This is a very good deal."
Clinton's foundation is a founding member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization that aims to reduce childhood obesity and brokered the agreement. The manufacturers involved in the agreement are: AdvancePierre Foods, Domino's Pizza, JTM Food Group, McCain Foods USA, Rich Products Corp., Schwan's Food Service and Triden Seafoods.
"When I was in school and I didn't give a single thought to what I ate everyday, and 40 or 50 years later, I had to have open heart surgery," Clinton told the students. "Partly because of what I was doing in grade school, and middle school and high school. We didn't know. Now we do."
The agreement comes a day after Wal-Mart, the nation's largest grocer, announced it would make thousands of products healthier by reformulating them and pushing suppliers to do the same. First lady Michelle Obama, who has launched a campaign to reduce childhood obesity, accompanied Wal-Mart executives in making the announcement in Washington.
Jim Clough, the president of Schwan's Food Service, said his company has been working over the last 10 years to make its pizza healthier, and that the main barrier in putting more nutritious items in the school lunchroom has been getting options that kids want to eat and taste great. Schwan's has pledged to double the number of school pizza products with 51 percent whole grains by the fall of 2011, and reduce the sodium content by another 10 percent.
"This is a huge, huge announcement today," Clough said.
Three of the nation's largest group purchasing organizations - HPS, Premier healthcare alliance and Summa/Provista - have also agreed to help make the items more affordable and shift district purchasing toward the healthier products.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)