Healthy children build a stronger nation

Allowing schools to take into account more than just the cheapest option will hopefully provide more children with high-quality, nutritious meals.

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Illinois schools are required to take the lowest bid for food contracts, but a pending bill in Springfield could change that.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

I appreciated the Sun-Times’ recent article “Illinois schools wouldn’t have to serve cheapest food possible under new bill,” highlighting state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth’s legislation (HB 4813) that would remove the requirement that schools opt for the lowest bidder when considering food service contracts.

Allowing schools to take into account more than just the cheapest option will hopefully provide more children with high-quality, nutritious meals. As a retired major general from the U.S. Air Force, supporting policies that provide children with access to healthy food is a main priority for me.

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Currently, 70% of Illinois youth between 14 and 17 cannot pursue military careers because they fail to qualify due to a combination of factors: obesity, poor education and criminal records. Data from 2018 indicate that 14.2% of middle and high school-aged students were obese, which can lead to health complications later in life such as diabetes and heart disease.

However, school food programs often provide children with fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains to build healthy lifestyles — options we should support in public policies.

Studies show it is especially important that healthy eating habits are formed in children’s earliest years. That is particularly relevant since children as young as 2 are experiencing rising obesity rates in our state. We know children in the renowned Abecedarian early childhood education program were less likely to face obesity in adulthood (for girls) and displayed fewer risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes (for boys).

Healthy children are more likely to become healthy adults. As our military faces recruitment challenges due to an unqualified population, I do not find it a stretch to say healthy children build a stronger nation.

Major General (Ret) Gary R. Dylewski, U.S. Air Force, Peoria

Electric school buses for clean air, renewable energy

Every day, thousands of Chicago children are exposed to dangerous diesel pollution on the way to and from school. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen linked to serious health problems, including lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Switching to electric school buses would ensure that kids don’t have to breathe in a daily dose of toxic diesel pollution.

Cleaner air isn’t the only benefit. The powerful batteries inside electric school buses can strengthen the electrical grid and speed the transition to renewable energy.

As school buses are mostly only in use during short, specific periods, electric buses could absorb renewable energy when it is available and release when needed. Electrical utilities could compensate school districts for the power storage services their buses provide.

Switching to electric school buses is a win for our children’s health, schools and the environment. Chicago Public Schools should commit to 100% electric school bus fleets by 2030.

Mac Dressman, Uptown

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