PORTLAND, Oregon, August 7, 2023 — The American Heart Association supports a statewide effort to ensure Oregon students have access to healthy school meals at no cost to families. Under the plan approved by lawmakers, three of every four Oregon schools will be able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. The $17 million state investment will help as many as 198 additional schools offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. As passed in the Oregon Department of Education budget, the expansion will begin in the 2024-2025 academic year.

“This is a historic move for Oregon. Proper nutrition is a key component of a heart-healthy lifestyle,” said Angela Wright, American Heart Association board member for Oregon and southwest Washington and Yakima Valley Farm Worker Clinics, Portland clinic director. “Ensuring all students' bodies are nourished so they can be ready to learn in the classroom sets them up to reach their full potential.”

The American Heart Association, a member of the Healthy School Meals for All Coalition, worked relentlessly to address the urgent need for Oregon to act on this issue. Healthy School Meals for All ensures students are well-nourished and ready to learn while maximizing federal reimbursement dollars.

"Expanding healthy school meals access will be transformational for our students and families. Not only will it help students learn - no one can focus on an empty stomach - it will help reduce the risk for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes,” Wright said. “We are so excited for this step in our ongoing work to expand until we cover healthy school meals for all Oregon students.”

In Oregon, one in eight children face hunger. Food insecurity is also more prevalent among Black and Hispanic households and in rural communities. School programs provide an important source of nutrition for students through the school week.

According to Brookings Institution, the availability of sufficient nourishing food significantly influences a child’s ability to perform academically — with impact on earning potential well into adulthood — especially for low-income students. Oregon was once a national leader in expanding access to free school meals through the 2019 Student Success Act, but now trails California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico, which all ensure universal access to school meals.

“Expanding access to school meals for Oregon children is a crucial step for kids and families. Access to universal school meals eliminates stigma and shame, and we know that universal access to school meals reduces illnesses, as well as anxiety and depression,” said Alanna Braun, M.D., FAAP, Portland-based pediatrician and immediate past president of the Oregon Pediatric Society. “Oregon children deserve to be healthy.” 

One-third of children in the United States are not only at an unhealthy weight but are also at increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. This means youth now have health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels that were previously only associated with adults. Children are consuming too much sodium and added sugars and too few fruits and vegetables. However, research shows that school meals are more nutritious than lunches brought from home. Additionally, lunches of the National School Lunch Program participants were found to be more nutritious than lunches of those who do not participate in this program. Learn more about healthy eating at heart.org/healthyeating.


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.orgFacebookTwitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

For Media Inquiries: 

Jay Wintermeyer: 503.820.5309; Jay.Wintermeyer@heart.org

heart.org and stroke.org

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)