We must keep and improve the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
October 10, 2014
Children receive their most healthy meal at school, in addition to half their daily calories. As a program that once set out to improve national nutrition, the Nation School Lunch Act (NSLA) is now shamed for forcing tasteless and extremely low calorie foods upon children, while disrupting the once bipartisanship support over school lunch programs.
In 2010, Congress was set to reauthorize the NSLA. With one in three American children facing obesity, the White House took the opportunity to fight this problem in school cafeterias nationwide. The Obama administration strongly supported a new bill the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act that would impose strict regulation of all foods sold in schools, with the ambition that healthier, whole grains and leafy greens would improve school performance and attention.
The National School Lunch Act was first set into motion by Gen Lewis B. Hershey, a former school principal, in 1945. As head of the Selective Service System, more commonly known as the draft, he testified to the House Agriculture Committee that as many as 40 percent of rejected draftees had been turned away due to poor nutrition. The importance of healthy draftees fast tracked the development of the National School Lunch Act in 1946, signed by President Harry Truman, called for a permanent legislative basis for school lunches. The Act works with the Department of Agriculture to subsidize foods for schools, while also providing low-cost or free meals, providing grants for the establishment and operation of nonprofit lunch programs.
Over the past decades, the NSLP enjoyed bipartisan support. Signed into law in 2010 with $4.5 billion in new funding, support from new business, and regulations under the direction of the Department of Agriculture, the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act had overwhelming support in Congress. However as broad guidelines began to be molded into strict regulations, Republicans criticize the program as a nanny-state intrusion while food companies have spent millions lobbying to slow changes that would cost them school lunch business and expensive changes. The growing rift between fractions of allies and adversaries of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act has caused little room for negotiation.
The U.S.D.A. imposed weekly caps on grain and protein to ensure students also get servings of fruits and vegetables. Some lunch ladies have voiced that students still choose to forgo the fruits and vegetables and so children are actually eating less. This causes another issue for low-income children—if they do not take the full components of the meal, then they cannot get reimbursed.
In 2012, students at Wallace County High School in Kansas also joined in the battle against The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Through a parody video “We are Hungry”, set to the tune of the popular song “We are Young”, students complained of a lack of energy due to low calorie foods served at lunch by dramatically falling to the grounds of classrooms and athletic fields. The students argue the program is targeted for overweight children, leaving the average student fatigued.
As some schools pull out of the program, the future of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act remains unclear. With the Act up for reauthorization next September, the champions of improving school nutrition may not get another chance to distribute healthy foods with the competition and lobbying from large food distributors. Check out the full analysis.
Author: Attiya Sayed, EDN Intern