It is widely known that about a third of the children in the U.S. are obese or overweight.
Additionally, about a quarter of American children are at risk of hunger. The paradox of hunger and obesity has been well-documented.
Afterschool programs represent an underutilized approach to addressing these challenges by providing both balanced, nutritious meals and snacks as well as nutrition education and physical activity.
Yet, while just under 3.5 million children who qualify for free and reduced lunch attend afterschool programs daily, only a little over one million afterschool snacks are provided through the USDA Afterschool Snack program. The barriers to participation in the snack program vary from low reimbursement rates to significant red tape.
Enter: Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
Every five years, in theory, the Child Nutrition Act is due to be reauthorized. This allows policymakers at the federal level to tweak what works and fix what doesn’t work with the school lunch program, school breakfast, summer feeding program, afterschool snack program, Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, and the WIC program. Already a year overdue in Congress, this reiteration of reauthorization has had the twin-focus of addressing childhood hunger and promoting healthy eating habits among young people.
Both the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee (the two authorizing Committees for Child Nutrition) have passed their own bipartisan versions of Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Chairman Miller on the House side and Chairwoman Lincoln on the Senate side have worked hard to craft responsible bills that have wide support in Congress.
There are a lot of positive changes in both the House and Senate bills for afterschool programs: expansion of the afterschool meal program (which will mean healthier, balanced snacks/meals), increased access to summer feeding programs in rural areas, and several provisions that will reduce the red tape for programs wishing to participate, among other provisions. The question now is: will the bill become law?
The current extension to child nutrition expires the end of September this year, and there are whole host of reason why it is a bad idea to push this bill off to next Congress. The bottom line, however, is that providing children with access to healthy meals is the right thing to do. That is why the Afterschool Alliance recently joined over 125 other national organizations collectively representing over 20 million Americans, from Catholic Charities USA to the National Parent Teacher Association, in calling on Congress to pass the child nutrition bill this year.
You can play a role too. Consider sending a short email to your members of Congress, or reach them through Facebook or Twitter, and simply ask them to bring this bill to the House and Senate floor and get it passed.
Healthy children should be a priority for all of us.