Testimony to the New York City Council: Committee on Education
Testimony of Charles Platkin, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H., Executive Director, Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center and Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College
November 3, 2017
Thank you to Chairperson Daniel Dromm and members of the Committee on Education for the opportunity to submit this written testimony regarding A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York in relation to information regarding summer meals.
This proposal would require the Department of Education to share summer meal information in a more timely fashion (by June 1st of each year) so that it can be disseminated to families while school is still in session. With more time for advanced planning, families will be better able to optimize their children’s health during the summer months. I urge the Committee on Education and the City Council to support this important legislation.
I am the Executive Director of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, which was created in 2012 to develop collaborative, innovative and evidence-based solutions to prevent diet-related diseases, and to promote healthy eating and food security in New York City. We work with policymakers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments. As such, the Center fully supports the Department of Education’s Summer Meals Program, which fights childhood hunger and undernutrition by providing free breakfast and lunch to children 18 and under, even if they don’t attend public schools. During the summer, children can get free meals at numerous libraries, pools, parks, public schools and NYCHA facilities.(1) The program is committed to providing healthy food choices and maintaining high nutritional standards in their menu options. This past summer, it was estimated that more than 7.5 million free, healthy meals would be distributed at nearly 1,100 sites in all five boroughs.(2)
The Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center and its partners know that:
- Eating a nutritious breakfast and lunch each day is key to a child’s healthy development;(3)
- Nurturing healthy children and families requires access to healthy and affordable meals, a particular challenge among those who live in food deserts or are otherwise food insecure;(4) and
- Providing free, nutritious meals during the summer months serves many who might otherwise go without since school is not in session.(5)
The summer nutrition gap and summer learning slide are interrelated. Affecting low-income children in greater numbers than their higher-income peers, children left hungry often struggle to succeed when school begins again the following fall.(6) By reducing undernutrition, summer meal programs help to ensure that children return to school ready and able to learn, which can have lifelong consequences.
Now that the Summer Meals Program is in place and expanding, it is imperative that outreach be improved so that more children can benefit. A 2017 Food Research & Action Center study warned that nationwide, there was a decrease of 4.8% in the number of children served by summer nutrition programs between July 2015 and July 2016, marking the first drop in participation since 2011.(7) While New York is considered a top-performing state relative to others, the study showed that our summer programs reached less than a third (29.9%) of students who received lunch during the school year; nationally, that reach was only 15%.(vii) Clearly there is room for improvement, and one of the most successful strategies to grow participation is enhanced outreach and publicity.
The New York City Department of Education, in partnership with the New York State Department of Education, currently sponsors a widespread advertising campaign in multiple languages, and we applaud their efforts to increase awareness, particularly their mobile app showing summer meal sites and daily menus.(8) However, there is evidence that the timing of this outreach sometimes falls short. In the past, information announcing the program has often been made public towards the very end of the school year when there is a flurry of other activities like field trips, graduations, etc. When parents don’t know in advance where to send their children for free summer meals, many go hungry. Int. No. 461-2014 would require the Department of Education to get the information out early to community partners, council members, borough presidents, community boards, community education councils, parent associations, and parent-teacher associations, who can then reach out to families in their schools (while school is in session) and throughout their neighborhoods. The information must include where and when meals will be available and any eligibility guidelines, and be translated in at least the top six languages other than English spoken in New York City.
Thank you to the New York City Council for your support of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center and your leadership in preventing childhood food insecurity. This proposed measure will take important steps to strengthen the Summer Meals Program by making it accessible to more children and families in need. If you have any questions, or for more information about the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, visit our website at www.nycfoodpolicy.org or e-mail Dr. Charles Platkin at [email protected]
School Food, NYC Department of Education. Our Programs. www.schoolfoodnyc.org/OurPrograms/breakfast.htm#summer. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017
NYC Department of Education. News and Speeches. 2016-2017. “DOE Kicks Off Summer Meals Program, Bringing Free, Nutritious Breakfast and Lunch to NYC Children.” schools.nyc.gov/Offices/mediarelations/NewsandSpeeches/2016-2017/SummerMeals.htm. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017.
AL Bashtawy M. Breakfast eating habits among schoolchildren. J Pediatr Nurs. 2017(36)118- 123. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2017.05.013.
Franco M, Diez-Roux AV, Nettleton JA, et al. Availability of healthy foods and dietary patterns: the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009; 89(3) 897-904. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26434.
Huang J, Barnidge E. Low-income children’s participation in the National School Lunch Program and household food insufficiency. Soc Sci Med. 2015(150)8–14. doi: https://doiorg.proxy.wexler.hunter.cuny.edu/10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.12.020.
Carroll C. Better academic performance – Is nutrition the missing link? Today’s Dietitian. 2014 (16)10; 24. 2017. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100614p64.shtml. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017.
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Hunger doesn’t take a vacation: summer nutrition status report. 2017. www.frac.org/research/resource-library/hunger-doesnt-take-vacationsummer-nutrition-status-report-june-2017. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017.
NYC Department of Education. News and Speeches. 2014-2015. “DOE Announces Start of Annual Free Summer Meals Program for All NYC Children and Youth.” schools.nyc.gov/Offices/mediarelations/NewsandSpeeches/2014- 2015/Free+Summer+Meails.htm. Accessed Nov. 3, 2017.