More than 60 years ago, through enactment of the first federal child nutrition program – the National School Lunch Act of 1946 – Congress acknowledged that feeding hungry children was not only a moral imperative but also imperative for the health and security of our nation. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson re-affirmed the importance of the federal nutrition programs by signing the Child Nutrition Act into law.
Today, we are faced with an even more pressing challenge. Nearly 16 million children – one in five – live with food insecurity; one-third of children in the United States are obese or overweight; and childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. In addition, the federal government and taxpayers ultimately pay for the consequences of poor child nutrition and treating obesity-related illnesses is costing our nation $190.2 billion per year.
In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) – a bill to reauthorize the child nutrition programs as well the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – with bipartisan support to help ensure every child has access to the nutritious food they need to perform well in school and grow into healthy adults. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs play a critical role in providing nutritious foods to children while at school; the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program make sure that kids don’t go hungry when they aren’t at school.
Federal child nutrition programs support healthy children and healthy learning environments:
- Recent studies from the CDC and Kaiser Permanente show that obesity rates are falling among young kids;
- Nearly 99 percent of schools have implemented and welcomed the healthier meal standards;
- Kids are now eating at least 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch;
- During the 2015-2016 school year, 8.5 million low-income children in 18,000 schools received free, nutritious meals without the need for burdensome application requirements, thanks to the reforms passed in HHFKA. This represents an increase of nearly 4,000 schools and 1.8 million children from the previous year;
- Nearly 4 million children have access to healthy food in the summer when school is out and meals are scarce;
- 8 million low-income women, infants and young children now receive an improved variety of healthy food through WIC; and
- 9 out of 10 people in the U.S. support the national school nutrition standards; 86 percent say the school nutrition standards should stay the same or be strengthened.