A landmark step as the Child Nutrition Bill is signed in to law

A Landmark Step As The Child Nutrition Bill Is Signed In To Law

Wed 22 Dec 2010

Story by Margo Wootan

With the Child Nutrition Bill signed in to law last week, improvements to child nutrition programs across the US have been set in motion. Lending her expert voice, Margo Wootan, has been one of the leading advocates for changes to the federal child nutrition legislation. Having worked for several years to see through these major changes she explains what we can expect from the new bill.

After three years of hard work by parents, health, education and anti-hunger groups, members of Congress, and First Lady Michelle Obama, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law. This bipartisan bill makes the most significant improvements to the child nutrition programs in decades, providing $4.5 billion (over ten years) in new funding, without adding a cent to the federal deficit. This investment in child nutrition and obesity prevention will deliver vast returns to children and families for years to come.

Among the most significant of those improvements is the provision that will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update the national school nutrition standards for all food sold outside of school meals, effectively removing junk food from school vending machines, a la carte lines, school stores, and on-campus fundraisers. Getting junk food out of schools is important for improving children’s diets and ensuring that those so-called competitive foods don’t undermine the school lunch program.

The new child nutrition law also provides the first true funding increase to the national school lunch program in over 35 years, providing an extra 6 cents in funding to schools meeting improved school meal nutrition standards. While that amount is not enough to meet the funding gap faced by most schools, it is supplemented by several no-cost provisions to increase the funds available for healthy school food. The new law sets schools on a path to gradually increase the price of paid school meals to make them comparable to the reimbursements USDA provides for free meals; it provides guidance to schools about which indirect costs (like lights, janitorial services, and other overheads) are allowable; and ensures that money meant for healthy school meals is not diverted to subsidizing junk food sold a la carte in the cafeteria.

The new child nutrition law increases technical support to schools and will strengthen school compliance with nutrition standards to ensure healthier school meals for children. Additionally, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will increase families’ access to the child nutrition programs through direct certification for children receiving Medicaid benefits, expansion of after-school meals for at-risk children, and greater use of community eligibility to cut red tape and enroll more low-income children in the school meal programs.

At a time when childhood obesity and overweight affect 1 in 3 children, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will help to ensure that the national investment in school meals is enhanced to reach more children with healthier foods.

About the author: Margo Wootan is the Director, Nutrition Policy at Center for Science in the Public Interest based in Washington D.C.


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