Last week the White House held a convening on childhood obesity to hear from experts and practitioners about the extent and causes of childhood obesity and to gather input for its action plan to solve the problem. With the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity due to the President next month, this is an important discussion to be had. School meals are scheduled to play a large role in the convening and in the President and First Lady’s plans to reduce childhood obesity.
As more and more families struggle to put food on the table, strengthening school meal programsâ€”one of the most effective hunger fighting tools in Americaâ€”is the right thing to do, say the leaders of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). When a child’s nutritional needs are met, the child is more attentive in class, has better attendance and has fewer disciplinary problems. According to the White House, on school days, many American children consume more than half their daily calories at school, and more than 30 million of these kids participate in the National School Lunch Program. Despite extremely limited budgets, school nutrition programs provide students well-balanced meals and are seeking crucial funding increases to further improve meal programs.
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is a critical piece of legislation that determines school food policy and resources, such as children’s access to meals and cafeteria equipment. Recently the Senate took the first step towards providing all American children with adequate nutrition by marking up this piece of legislation.
Passage of The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act would help schools through several initiatives. More fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods and low-fat dairy products will be served in school cafeterias. Major school food suppliers are to decrease the sugar, fat and salt in school meals, and also increase whole grains and produce served. It would also establish national nutrition standards for all foods sold on the school campus throughout the school dayâ€”including vending machines. It also acknowledges the key role of food service workers on the front-lines, feeding our kids every day. By including standards for worker training, we ensure that they can effectively promote the health and well-being of students, and that school meal programs are more successful, say the SEIU and SNA. Food service workers will be better equipped to handle the serious food safety risks school districts face every dayâ€”and as an additional benefit, improve their skills and create a stable, committed workforce.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act “Great First Step”
These are great first steps, but The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act still doesn’t quite go far enough to fund child nutrition, say the spokespersons for the SNA and SEIU. While the legislation would boost funding for the federal child nutrition programs by $450 million per year, additional efforts are needed to reach the $1 billion per year increase requested by President Barack Obama. â€˜We believe that every penny of this increase is needed to make additional improvements in child nutrition programs,â€™ said Mitch Ackerman, Executive Vice President of the SEIU. â€˜The $10 billion over 10 years that President Obama requested would improve the quality of the school lunch and breakfast programs, increase the number of kids participating and ensure that schools have the resources they need to make program changes.â€™
â€˜Preparing healthy, well-balanced school meals while meeting federal nutrition standards and staying within budget is a tremendous challenge for cash-strapped school districts,â€™ said SNA President Dora Rivas, MS, RD, SNS. â€˜Fully funding the school nutrition programs will further improve meal programs and include more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. SNA supports President Obama and his efforts to ensure that these critical programs continue to provide children with healthy, balanced and nutritious meals each day.â€™
The SEIU and SNA leaders say they will continue to fight for the full $10 billion funding commitment in the President’s budget.