With President Barack Obama and Congress in the opening stages of what is likely to become a landmark debate on federal spending and debt, government initiatives that continue to command bipartisan support are increasingly rare. One program that both enjoys and deserves bipartisan support is first lady Michelle Obama’s effort on behalf of improving federally supported childhood nutrition programs in public schools.
As a complement to her Let’s Move program to fight childhood obesity through physical activity, Mrs. Obama has been a strong force on behalf of improving the nutritional standards that cover school lunch programs. President Obama recently signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that encompasses many of his wife’s goals.
Such programs command bipartisan support because, as Mrs. Obama said of the new law, “We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing. And our hopes for their future should drive every single decision that we make.”
The most significant provisions of the act include:
Giving the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the a la carte lunch lines and school stores.
Providing additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally subsidized lunches. This is a historic investment, the first real reimbursement rate increase in more than 30 years.
Helping communities establish local farm-to-school networks, creating school gardens and ensuring more local foods are used in the school setting.
Building on USDA work to improve nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from the USDA and use in their breakfast and lunch programs.
And expanding access to drinking water in schools, particularly during meal times.
At the same time, Mrs. Obama reported in a White House video that significant progress was made in the past year in the Let’s Move program, with more than 450 mayors signing up their cities to participate in the effort.
“We’re gaining some real momentum here. We’re seeing a real shift in our national conversation on an issue that some people thought was a lost cause. We’re seeing more and more reasons for hope,” she said.
Even so, more work needs to be done and nothing is more vital to the success of these efforts than seeing more public schools engage their students in physical fitness activities and improve their daily menus to ensure proper nutrition.
That is something on which everybody can agree.