In Health Care Reform, School Food and Fitness Are Smart Investments

June 23, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

As the health care debate continues to heat up, we're glad to see that for the first time prevention is taking center stage. Michelle Obama said this week that promoting
nutrition, wellness and prevention “is to me one of the true keys of
changing the health paradigm in this country.”

And Ezra Klien brings up an important distinction in this debate: the difference between health care and health. He explains:

…we
didn't build a health care system in the hopes that we'd eventually
overcome the economic challenges it posed. We built it because we want to be healthy.
And spending a bit more money helping people eat well when they're
young is, in terms of being healthy, probably a lot more effective than
spending a lot of money to keep people from dying from diabetes when
they're older.

This
is a simple but important point — providing better food to children is
a strategy for improving long-term health. Better school food does
require an investment: an investment of money, an investment of time to
train staff, an investment of effort to change habits and change
systems. Serving healthy food at school, teaching wellness, and helping
kids
develop healthy lifestyles will pay dividends for years to come in the
form of significantly healthier lives for those children.

At
the heart of the discussion of health care reform is the question of
how to best allocate resources so that the most people will have the
opportunity to live healthier lives. We say, investing in
health-promoting programs at schools is a very effective way to do this
— a smart investment. As Klein puts it:

Spending trillions to increase health care coverage while refusing to
make the small investments that would help people eat better is like
installing an incredibly expensive heating system in your house but
never bothering to purchase a sweater.

The
upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act offers the
opportunity for the federal government to invest increased funding in
better school food. You can learn more and take action on HSC's website.