U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 visited New Haven’s Nathan Hale School Wednesday morning, expressing his support for a district-wide initiative to teach nutrition and remove all junk food from schools.

Lieberman, Connecticut’s junior Democratic senator, inspected the cafeteria where over 500 elementary and middle school students are served salads for main courses and fruit cups for dessert, and throughout the day expressed his admiration for the Healthy Kids First nutrition program. The program, now in its second year at Nathan Hale, expanded this fall to all New Haven public schools.

“I am proud that New Haven has come together to teach kids not just reading, writing and arithmetic but good eating habits,” Lieberman said. “It may sound silly, but ultimately, this is a matter of life and death.”

Lieberman paused throughout his tour of the school to answer reporters’ questions on state and national issues. But, Lieberman said, nutrition in schools, on the model of the Healthy Kids First program, should be considered as a possible national initiative.

“I want to take this back to Washington,” Lieberman said. “There is a growing obesity problem, and the New Haven school system is a leader in addressing the problem.”

Though the district does not have hard data on the number of students with obesity, New Haven officials said a “significant number” of the school system’s students have diabetes, according to the Associated Press. Healthy Kids First literature reported that 18 percent of all New Haven schoolchildren suffer from asthma. Both diabetes and asthma have been linked to obesity.

Worried by the nationwide obesity epidemic, New Haven officials reacted radically. The nutrition program’s policy changes include overhauling cafeteria menus, restructuring vending machine contracts to replace sodas, chips and candy with nutritional substitutes, and even banning bake sales during school hours.

The program attempts to integrate nutrition into classes and insists on the importance of providing students with physical education classes and ample recess time.

Catherine Sullivan–DeCarlo, the communications director for New Haven Public Schools, said the children had adjusted to their new enforced diet. High schoolers fought harder to retain a choice of food in vending machines, but, Sullivan-DeCarlo said, the program is working well and New Haven students are eating healthier.

Cafeteria workers at Nathan Hale, the first New Haven public school to entirely eliminate junk food, said kids seemed to enjoy lunch as much as ever.

During his tour Lieberman also addressed press questions about homeland security in Connecticut.

“All of us [Connecticut politicians] fought hard for increased homeland security for New Haven and instead New Haven was not renewed for a grant of nine million,” Lieberman said. “It’s absolutely crazy when you think about [not protecting] such a vital facility as the New Haven Port.”

Nathan Hale elementary students also asked Lieberman tough questions when he visited a classroom to discuss nutrition.

Asked about running for vice-president in 2000 and president in 2004, Lieberman called his two unsuccessful campaigns learning experiences but also said that, at least as far as the presidency was concerned, he would never run again.