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Published April 12, 2010, 12:16 PM

Pushing for youth health and nutrition

WASHINGTON — President Obama and Michelle Obama turned the April 5 White House Easter Egg Roll into part of their childhood anti-obesity campaign while anti-hunger and nutrition advocates continue their campaign to boost the increase in funding for school meals programs above the $4.5 billion in 10 years that the Senate Agriculture Committee provided in the in child nutrition reauthorization bill it passed March 24.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — President Obama and Michelle Obama turned the April 5 White House Easter Egg Roll into part of their childhood anti-obesity campaign while anti-hunger and nutrition advocates continue their campaign to boost the increase in funding for school meals programs above the $4.5 billion in 10 years that the Senate Agriculture Committee provided in the in child nutrition reauthorization bill it passed March 24.

Both the Obamas’ campaign and the child nutrition bill may affect what foods the government buys for child nutrition programs and what consumers buy in grocery stores and restaurants. In general, the Obamas’ campaign and the child nutrition bill will discourage consumption of high-fat, sugary and salty foods and encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables and low-fat meat and dairy products.

Empowering information

With President Obama standing behind her, Obama said at the White House Easter egg roll that she hoped the combination of food and exercise events taking place at the Easter egg roll will lead the thousands of children and their parents gathered on the White House lawn to learn to live a healthier lifestyle. She also made a C-SPAN appearance from the State Dining Room April 7 with student reporters and young people from schools across the country who are working on health and nutrition issues.

And on April 8, the White House scheduled a meeting of the administration’s childhood obesity task force with experts from around the country to discuss challenges such as empowering parents to deal with nutrition issues and providing access to healthy, affordable food. The task force has been charged to develop an interagency plan that details a coordinated strategy to fight childhood obesity.

On March 31, as she and elementary school students planted this year’s White House vegetable garden, Obama told the students who had helped last year, “The work that you did helped start a national and international conversation.” She noted that schools across the United States and in other countries have started gardens and added that she had talked to the Grocery Manufacturers Association and that its member companies are “trying to figure out how do they lower sugar and salt and fats in your food so that you get healthy.”

Feeding funds

Meanwhile, anti-hunger and nutrition groups are urging their supporters to ask members of Congress to provide more money for the school and summer meals programs. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school meal preparers, sent its membership an alert, saying that schools need more than the 6 cents per meal increase for school lunches in the Senate Agriculture Committee-passed bill and urging schools to invite members of Congress and senators to the schools during the congressional Easter break.

“While the legislation would boost funding for the federal child nutrition programs by $450 million per year, including a performance-based 6-cent increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches, additional efforts are needed to reach the $1 billion per year increase requested by President Barack Obama,” the association said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also said after the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the child nutrition bill that the final version should be “more robust” and fulfill President Obama’s proposal of an increase of $10 billion in 10 years for child nutrition.

A USDA budget official said the estimated spending on mandatory child nutrition programs for fiscal year 2010, which ends in September, is $17.1 billion, that estimated spending under current law is $18.3 billion for fiscal year 2011 and $204 billion in 10 years. The child nutrition reauthorization bill covers school and summer meals programs, the adult and child care feeding programs, which are entitlements, and the special nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC.

WIC is not an entitlement, but in recent years, Congress has appropriated enough money to cover all applicants. The fiscal year 2010 appropriation was $7.3 billion, and the administration has requested $7.6 billion for fiscal year 2011. The child nutrition reauthorization bill includes a number of changes in WIC to encourage low-income women to breastfeed.

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