Child Nutrition Act – A Game Changer?

August 06, 2010

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

Yesterday the Senate unanimously passed the Child Nutrition Act. The bill would partially fulfill President Obama’s request for $10 billion in additional funding for child nutrition program by providing $4.5 billion over the next decade. The bill will now move on to the House where it will need to pass by September 30, before the current program expires.

According to The New York Times:

The legislation will expand the number of low-income children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, largely by streamlining the paperwork required to receive the meals. And it will expand a program to provide after-school meals to at-risk children.

Foods sold in schools will be required to meet new nutrition guidelines, whether sold in the school lunch line or in vending machines. Schools may still be allowed to sell pizza and other favorites, though schools may have to substitute healthier ingredients to qualify.

School vending machines and a la carte lines, however, may be prohibited from selling candy bars and high-sugar sodas that have long provided revenue for extracurricular programs.

These are all positive and important changes. And all in all, this will allow for greater access to healthier food for our children. 

But let’s not lose perspective. This bill is good, but not a game changer. The low level of funding will mean that schools will continue to struggle with limited resources and will face an ongoing challenge as they work to provide healthier and higher quality options for schoolchildren.

With all the focus on addressing childhood obesity at the federal, state and local levels, we are disappointed that the Senate didn’t come up with more money to improve school food.

The increase in funding included in this bill is only six cents per meal — and that's in an environment where schools, on average, are already losing about 35 cents per meal. (Schools in large urban settings are losing about double that amount.) This additional revenue, while welcome, will not open the flood gates to fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather, it will place a small plug in school food budgets already in crisis.

So as the bill goes to the House, we still need to ask our legislators to prioritize our children’s health and pass the bill with a greater level of funding. Because if we really want to address childhood obesity and improve school food, we need to invest real resources into how we feed our children.

Update: Ughhh… It seems that most of the offsets that were identified to pay for this funding increase were taken from SNAP funding. Not pretty. Read Ezra Klein for more information.