“Children who are served healthy and balanced meals are better poised for success in school and in life,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “Making sure children have access to the foods they need well before they enter kindergarten will be critical as we work to improve our federal child nutrition laws this year.”
Improving the federal school meal and child nutrition programs is one of four key strategies of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation.
Witnesses today echoed the First Lady’s goal and urged Congress to consider strengthening several policy areas to improve child nutrition.
The school meal programs have the greatest reach of all the child nutrition programs. In over 100,000 schools across the country, more than 31 million children rely on the federal school meal programs each day.
“It will not be easy to reconcile the needs of our children with the massive public debt we face as a country,” said Dora R. Rivas, President of the School Nutrition Association and Executive Director of Food and Child Nutrition Services at the Dallas Independent School District. “Investing in our children and preparing them to learn and compete in a global economy must remain one of the country’s highest priorities.”
Rivas specifically asked Congress to help improve children’s access to the school meal programs and to support high quality nutrition.
Studies have shown that early access to good nutrition can have a positive effect on children’s development and achievement. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) reimburses program participants, such as child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start, after school programs and shelters for food and meal preparation costs, ongoing nutrition training and more. Each day, about three million children receive meals and snacks under the CACFP while in child care.
“CACFP is a vital source of support for family child care providers, centers and Head Start Programs,” said Carolyn L. Morrison, President of the National Child and Adult Care Food Program Forum. “CACFP sponsoring organizations play a critical role in ensuring child care providers can participate in this program and serve healthful meals to children under their care.
Another key program, WIC, provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and infants and children up to age five who are at a nutritional risk. Studies show breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for infants, but low-income women are significantly less likely to breastfeed. As witnesses explained today, low-income women who participate in WIC are more likely to breastfeed – setting their children on a path to lead healthier lives.
“Appreciating the external challenge we face in the WIC Program, Congress has recognized the importance of WIC breastfeeding promotion and support and has steadily increased the funding available to support this effort,” said Kiran Saluja, Deputy Director of Public Health Foundation Enterprises, Inc. “WIC staff has not only embraced, but championed breastfeeding personally and professionally. Within WIC we have clearly established breastfeeding as the expectation and the norm.”