By Jasmine Aguilera, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - More South Carolina schools are serving healthier lunches than in any other state.
Almost 93 percent of South Carolina school districts meet standards implemented last year, according to figures states reported to the Agriculture Department. No other state had a compliance rate of 90 percent. Mississippi was second with 83.4 percent, followed by Florida at 82.3 percent. Nationally, 53.7 percent of school districts are meeting the regulations.
Congress required in 2010 that school lunch standards be updated with the goal of reducing childhood obesity and improving children's diets.
The regulations call for more fruits and vegetables, and limit meats. Fat-free milk must be included, while any form of trans fat is prohibited.
States are reimbursed 6 cents per lunch served for school districts that meet regulations.
"We wanted to make sure we could provide nutritious meals according to USDA standard," said Keith Ringer, program manager at the South Carolina Department of Education. He said the money received from the USDA will pay for more fruits and vegetables for student lunches.
Every school district in the country is required to meet the regulations, but there is no deadline. Every school within the district must meet regulations to get reimbursed.
Fritz Mason, public affairs officer for the South Carolina Department of Education, said the department has no problem accepting federal aid as long as it does not come with mandates. In 2009, Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford rejected $700 million in federal economic stimulus money.
"I think that is a common misconception that we won't accept federal aid, but our superintendent has no problem with that," Mason said.
The adult obesity rate in South Carolina is 31.5 percent, and 66.9 percent are overweight, which makes the state one of the worst in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among adolescents, 16.7 percent are obese and 15 percent are overweight.
"We want more nutrition all around," Ringer said. "We are required by the USDA to meet these regulations, but of course we want to teach our children good nutritional habits."