Child nutrition: A true bipartisan issue

With President Obama and Congress in the opening stages of what is likely to become a landmark debate on federal spending and debt, government initiatives that continue to command bipartisan support are increasingly rare. One program that both enjoys and deserves bipartisan support is first lady Michelle Obama's effort on behalf of improving federally supported childhood nutrition programs in the public schools. As a complement to her Let's Move program to fight childhood obesity through physical activity, Mrs. Obama has been a strong force on behalf of improving the nutritional standards that cover school lunch programs. President Obama recently signed the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 that encompasses many of Mrs. Obama's goals. Such programs command bipartisan support because, as Mrs. Obama said of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act: “We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing. And our hopes for their future should drive every single decision that we make.”

Among the most significant provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act are these:

» Gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines and school stores.

» Provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally subsidized lunches. This is a historic investment, the first real reimbursement rate increase in more than 30 years.

» Helps communities establish local farm-to-school networks, create school gardens and ensure that more local foods are used in the school setting.

» Builds on USDA work to improve nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from USDA and use in their breakfast and lunch programs.

» Expands access to drinking water in schools, particularly during meal times.

At the same time, Mrs. Obama reports in a White House video that significant progress was made in the last year in the Let's Move program, with more than 450 mayors signing up their cities to participate in the effort. “We're gaining some real momentum here, we're seeing a real shift in our national conversation on an issue that some people thought was a lost cause. We're seeing more and more reasons for hope.”

Even so, more work is to be done and nothing is more vital to the success of these efforts than seeing more public schools engaging their students in physical fitness activities and improving their daily menus to ensure proper nutrition. That's something on which everybody can agree.

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