With 88% of schools lacking at least one piece of equipment they need to provide healthier foods, Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc., an organization created to help increase sales and demand for dairy products, told DairyReporter that this is a big step toward helping more children become active in their own health.
“While kids are looking at [things like] ‘How we can eat healthier, breakfast or otherwise?’, they might not be able to have breakfast,” he said, due to a lack of equipment at schools. “This is the other side of it; to have the equipment there to make sure the kids can be offered those options.”
DairyReporter spoke with Gallagher about the new grants, the NFL partnership and what it means to help so many kids.
DairyReporter: Tell me a bit about the $35m grants.
Tom Gallagher: These specific grants are just another step in an evolution in the relationship with the NFL, the secretary of agriculture at the USDA and us. It was created five or six years ago around our Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which is in 73,000 schools in the US. The USDA has seen how effective this program is.
The former Surgeon General [Dr. David Satcher], who initiated the obesity report, said our program is the only program he’s seen both effecting physical fitness and better eating at school. Sixteen million kids are affected by each of those.
The [current] secretary has given $30m in grants and dairy farmers gave $5m in grants to give equipment that schools can use for better equipment. The $5m from dairy farmers will go toward smoothie machines and coolers and those kinds of things so kids can choose better options.
The USDA's can go toward those but can also go toward large equipment items; such as certain kinds of ovens so they can cook healthier and not have all the fried foods and things like that.
DR: What’s the purpose of the program?
TG: The whole purpose is to continually evolve the opportunity for kids to be served healthier meals. The one-two punch has been the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which is the program the NFL and national dairy program has in schools. It incentivizes the kids with rewards and some grants and opportunities to go to events like the [NFL] draft. It incentivizes those kids to work within those schools to find that healthier options of food plus physical fitness options.
DR: So the kids take control of the program?
TG: We offer what we call a series of plays in the playbook. They can choose a nutrition play or physical fitness play. Let’s say we’re going to take a nutrition play and increase breakfast at our school. There are a lot of hindrances to breakfast, like where will they serve it, how will they handle it. If they choose a physical fitness route… some kids have done as something as simple as an after school walking club for kids who aren’t involved in physical fitness.
If they can show us they’re creating opportunities where they didn’t previously exist then they get some form of rewards for that. We’ve also now included farm-to-fork activities. They can choose something that will teach them more about agriculture and how their food is made.
DR: How important has the partnership with the NFL been since it began a dozen years ago?
TG: It’s huge. The good thing about this is that by us and the dairy farmers and the NFL doing good in schools, we’re not focusing on dairy nutrition or football, we’re focusing on kids getting physical fitness where only 20% of schools offer physical fitness. We’ve seen an increase in the number of breakfasts served and that’s a direct result of this program. Several million kids more getting breakfast every day. We’ve seen summer feeding numbers increase by 5m.
It’s critical for these kids. Some of these kids come from homes where this is their only stable meal that has nutrition. For some kids it may be their only meal. There are 5m to 6m kids who are food insecure. By us doing this program and explaining good physical and nutrition habits for a lifetime, we believe that will also be good for dairy if they follow the dietary guidelines, but we’re really doing something for kids.