Vilsack calls school meals bill major advance in combating childhood hunger & obesity

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 10 - In a Friday preview of President Obama's signing of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids” legislation Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the school meals bill the greatest advance for childhood nutrition “perhaps since 1946 when the School Lunch Act was enacted by President Truman.”

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Vilsack said the comprehensive new law “will be a great opportunity for us to improve nutrition; to focus on the twin issues of childhood obesity and hunger in this country; to increase access to good, quality programs in our schools; to address the nutritional needs of our youngsters; and to increase the monitoring and integrity of the program. . . . the bill will give USDA additional funding that in turn will be given to schools that will allow them to update their nutritional standards for federally subsidized lunches. This is an historic investment. It's the first real reimbursement rate increase in over 30 years.”

Vilsack pointed out that for the first time, the bill gives USDA authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machine, a la carte lunch line, and school stores food. Showcasing the sweep of the new rules, he added that “We're going to make the local-farm-to-school-network stronger, and we're going to encourage the creation of school gardens, which will ensure that more local foods are used in the school setting.”

Sam Kass, a White House Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives said that with over 31 million children receiving school meals, “schools are now more and more on the front lines of our challenge to combat both childhood obesity, childhood hunger, and improve children's health.” Promising “more whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk, more fruits and more vegetables” in school meals, Kass said signing the bill Monday “will mark an absolute milestone and an ongoing work by this administration to ensure that our kids grow up healthy and strong, and we secure a prosperous future for our country.”

Tim Cipriano, the Executive Director of Food Services for New Haven public schools, pointed to the need for school meals: “In New Haven, Connecticut, over 80 percent of our children qualify for free and reduced meals. One in four children lack access to these nutritious meals. The meals we serve in our schools for some children are the only meals of the day. So we strive to serve the most nutritious possible meals.”

Cipriano said “With the new competitive grant process for states to carry out strategies to end childhood hunger, we will begin to see a decrease in obesity in our schools. Our kids aren't hungry because we lack food or because of a lack of food and nutrition programs. They are hungry because they lack access to these programs and to the nutritious foods they need to grow and thrive.”

The Monday signing of the child nutrition bill, with remarks from President Obama and the First Lady, will be streamed live at 10:25 AM EST at

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