The fact that summer's here isn't a license to forget about good nutrition and good choices for kids and families. It's why many parents will remind their kids that reading books and riding bikes around the neighborhood are better choices than eating potato chips and turning into a couch potato while school's out.
At the same time, federal lawmakers need to wrap up important policy decisions that will impact the wellbeing of the nation's school children when they return to school this fall.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I helped advance "The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010" this spring. The bipartisan bill reauthorizes federal youth nutrition programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program.
The economic downturn has put increased pressure on neighborhood food pantries and federal nutrition programs to help those in need. Our legislation bumps up federal spending by $4.5 billion spread over the next decade to help thwart the pangs of hunger in America. That comes to a nearly ten-fold increase reflecting the considerable need that exists to channel more resources to those who still go to bed on an empty stomach.
Federal policymakers also must address the other end of the nutrition spectrum. It's no secret the United States is battling an obesity epidemic, including an alarming rise among children and teenagers. America's growing waistline poses significant health risks to individuals and a costly burden to the nation's public health systems as research tells us obesity leads to chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
The Senate's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 does not increase the deficit, and it includes measures designed to give parents, schools and communities additional tools to promote healthy habits that will lead younger generations to enjoy longer, high-quality, productive lives. The legislation would increase the number of children eligible for free or reduced cost meals, encourage schools to adopt better nutritional standards as outlined by the USDA and automatically enroll foster children for free school meals.
The current federal school nutrition law expires on September 30. I'm pushing the Senate leadership to get this bill passed before we start the next school year. The federal government obviously shouldn't dictate what every child in America eats for lunch. But taxpayers have a vested interested to know Uncle Sam expects quality, wholesome, nutritious foods to be served by taxpayer-subsidized food programs.
Whether it is spring, summer, fall or winter, parents obviously never stop worrying about the wellbeing of their children. The earlier we all start teaching healthy eating habits, the better.