Health & Wellbeing
How is a School like the Space Station?
Lorna Donatone
Lorna Donatone
CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President, Sodexo North America

Food matters. The nutritional value and appeal of their food makes a difference to the scientists on the International Space Station. That point was made during a panel discussion “Is Food the Cure?” by Vickie Kloeris, Manager, International Space Station Food System, NASA Johnson Space Center. She was joined by Dr. Frédéric Saldmann, Cardiologist, Nutritionist and Writer, and Lawrence A. Soler, President and CEO, Partnership for a Healthier America. They were among the speakers that I was privileged to hear at Sodexo’s inaugural Quality of Life Conference.

For me, the panel reinforces the importance of food for learning—kids need appealing nutritious meals during school to stay focused. Granted, it’s a little easier for us to provide meals than it is for NASA, but like NASA, we continue to work on making our meals healthier and more appealing within the strictures of school lunch guidelines. For example, we worked with Cornell University to develop a checklist of all the ways we can encourage kids to eat healthier. Sometimes it’s the little things, like cutting fresh broccoli into small enough pieces.

The panel explored three different viewpoints on the importance of nutrition and its role in improving quality of life. The panelists discussed ways that food affects individuals’ lives and explored how organizations are successfully promoting nutrition, making clear the linkages between nutrition, health and personal performance. From a physiological perspective, eating healthy foods has a life-long benefit of preventing disease and increasing life expectancy. It’s sobering to realize how powerful a school meals program can be for the rest of a student’s life—I am humbled by how important our job is to students’ well-being.


Dr. Saldmann reinforced this idea by discussing a program for Sodexo employees that showed a positive effect on mental and physical well-being from a few simple changes in habit. He pointed out the importance of programs to prevent obesity among adults and children. The good news is those underway by organizations like The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $500 million commitment to address childhood obesity and Michelle Obama’s focus on childhood obesity supports healthier school lunches and encourages consumption of more fruits and vegetables. Progress is encouraging —the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last year that obesity decreased 40% among children between the ages of two and five. The youngest children are eating healthier food and are more physically active.

Other programs like the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) are making a difference. PHA works with Sodexo and over 150 other companies and institutions that have committed to making healthy changes to their food and services. PHA conducts an independent evaluation of each and reports on a yearly basis. What has changed over the last two to three years is that companies are being increasingly driven by consumer demand. People want fresher, healthier, and more transparently nutritious products.

More sobering was the assessment by Professor Jean Jouzel, Paleoclimate Scientist, Co-Laureate Nobel Peace Prize 2007 and Vetlesen Prize 2012, of the effect of climate change on nutrition. He pointed out a correlation between climate change and decreased crop yields that will result in increased food insecurity. According to Jouzel, essential crops such as rice, wheat, maize, and soy will dwindle in production. While many of the most dire results will not happen in our lifetime, he pointed out that we need to take action.

And, as we have learned from our nutrition efforts, committed people can work together and create change. Quality of life relies on a swift response and quick alterations in human behavior.

Read more from these inspirational speakers and others in our Quality of Life Conference Report.


Lorna Donatone is the CEO of Sodexo Schools Worldwide and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Ms. Donatone believes that student well-being is key to achievement. She recently attended the inaugural Quality of Life conference in New York City with 300 leaders representing 30 nationalities and an array of organizations from the private sector, academia, civil society, media, and local and government authorities. The event provided an opportunity to share ideas and best practices and to hear experts and thought leads offer their viewpoints on how we can achieve progress that will truly serve human beings. Join the conversation at Quality of Life Observer.


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