Childhood obesity has more than tripled over the last 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children who are 6 to 11 years old has gone up from 6.5 percent to nearly 20 percent in that time span.
While political views may differ, there is one indisputable fact: we are getting heavier, and this includes our children. One of the ways that we can combat childhood obesity is by improving the foods in school lunches. So finally, after much political fighting, the Senate passed The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Here is a breakdown of what the new law will entail:
- The bill increases spending on child nutrition by $4.5 billion over 10 years. It also raises federal reimbursements for school lunches more than the inflation rate. That hasn’t happened since 1973.
- Poor children will automatically be enrolled in the program, so there is no need for paperwork to be filled out by their parents.
- The USDA will have more power over school lunch nutritional standards, including all food and beverages that are sold on school grounds.
- School districts will receive additional funding if they meet updated nutritional standards.
- An after-school supper program for the needy, which is available in DC and 13 states, will be expanded. This means that 21 million more meals will be available to poor children.
- Free drinking water must be available where meals are served.
- Lawmakers are offsetting the bill’s costs by including a $2.2 billion cut in the food stamp program.
- Access is expanded to subsidized meals for poor children. Those meals will need to include more whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and vegetables.
- The federal reimbursement rate on school lunches will be raised by six cents per lunch for school districts that comply with the new standards that are issued by the Agriculture Department. The increase will be indexed to inflation. The reimbursement rate is currently $2.72 for each free lunch, which is considered insufficient by most school administrators.
Some school groups oppose the legislation, including The American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association and the Council of the Great City Schools. In general, they cite an inability to financially meet the new requirements.
But proponents say that it’s a much needed kick in the butt to get meals healthier and our children lighter. Some military leaders have even sited child obesity as a national security risk, since fewer and fewer young people will be physically fit to serve in the armed forces. Whether it’s improved lunches, more exercise, more parental responsibility, or all the above, it’s an issue we can’t afford to sweep under the rug.