Update: This morning, the House Education and Labor Committee passed the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (H.R. 5504) out of committee. For information on particular amendments to the bill, click here.
By Jacob Markey, NCL’s LifeSmarts intern
I recently had the chance to attend another hearing on Capitol Hill, this time the House Education and Labor Committee’s hearing about H.R. 5504, the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act,” a very important issue (if judged solely by the packed audience of onlookers): the extent to which changes will be made to the child nutrition bill covering programs fighting childhood obesity and hunger.
Follow almost any news media, and you will often find reference to a new Robert Wood Johnson report on the worsening childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Statistics demonstrate the massive extent of this problem: there are three times more obese children today than there were 30 years ago, with 19.6 percent of children aged 6-11 and 18.1 percent of children aged 12-19 now obese. Even with the large number of obese kids in the United States, there remains a significant part of the population that relies on free meals just to be able to get sufficient food each day. Committee chair Rep. George Miller (D-CA) cited compelling statistics: “Over 16 million children are hungry and live in households where families are struggling to put food on the table.”
The consensus of the majority of those testifying (which included the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and Tom Colicchio, a chef whom fans of the Bravo show “Top Chef” would certainly recognize) was that increasing funding is absolutely necessary. Doing so would allow an expansion of the free breakfast program, ensuring that all children have access to a nutritious breakfast in the morning in order to be better prepared to learn at the best of their abilities. This would also streamline food access, allow for better food safety, and provide meals for children year-round, not just during weekdays throughout the school year. In addition, Secretary Vilsack noted this is a moral issue: How can the people of the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, live with themselves knowing there are citizens who still go hungry?
Unfortunately, some people do not feel children’s nutrition is enough of a priority in the present to warrant extra money for this issue. They feel that the budget issues our country faces preclude us from expanding these programs. This would be a huge mistake to make. Providing extra funds in the short-term will hopefully help to stem the problems of childhood obesity and hunger. There are many benefits that may accrue from healthier and well-nourished kids, including better school performance and lower health care costs, and the long-term cost of not acting will far outweigh any money we save in the short-term. We need to avoid this short-sighted thinking and choose to invest in the present instead of passing the buck to a future generation.