Yesterday the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act by unanimous consent. The bill allots $4.5 billion to fund public school food programs. The bill, which was backed by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), includes provisions for creating nationwide nutrition standards for schools, as well as money for to provide healthier foods for school cafeterias. The bill’s passage was a huge victory for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative aimed at fighting childhood obesity.
Hunger and poor nutrition are—shockingly—serious problems in the United States. The lack of affordable food counterintuitively contributes to obesity because it means a lack of healthy food, particularly because healthy food is generally so much expensive than unhealthy food. If few Americans really starve to death, many—maybe as many as 50 million of us—don’t eat well. As food prices continue to rise, the problem will only get worse.
The shortage of cheap, healthy food probably hurts children the most. As Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote in an New York Times editorial this week, nearly a third of American children are overweight or obese, and the incidence of childhood diabetes is rising dramatically. At the same time evidence shows that childhood nutrition programs can increase academic scores and reduce children’s behavioral problems. But the recession has meant cutbacks in the programs, even as many families are having a harder feeding their children well.
While there is broad, bipartisan support for the bill, it still has to pass the House—which is on its August recess right now—before September 30, when the current funding for many of these programs will expire. That's no sure thing. Partisan bickering over other legislation almost kept the bill from even getting a vote in the Senate. And legislators have had difficulty coming up with funding for these programs. As it is, the bill doesn’t really allocate enough money to make a huge difference—just 6 cents per school meal, Paula Crossfield says. If we want to make sure our children are eating well, we’ll have to do better than that. Our future and our health depend on it.