Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

It was with no small excitement that I read about the new Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act, this year's renewal of the Child Nutrition Act by Senator Blanche Lincoln.  I have long been concerned that there is a connection between school lunches and the food desert: after all, if schools are modeling pop-tarts for breakfast, and pancakes for lunch - why wouldn't you buy them to have at home - and if you always buy pop-tarts rather than fresh fruit, why would your local corner store carry produce when it's so perishable and unprofitable? 

This bill isn't going to fix everything, but it takes many steps in the right direction.  It isn't exclusive to schools - but, to me, the most important feature of the bill is that the foods served on school campuses will now have to follow new nutrition standards currently under review, and are awarded a financial incentive for meals that meet or exceed these standards.  The bill also sets aside monies to research the causes and consequences of hunger, healthy eating and obesity - all major issues in the food desert.

Specifically as pertains to the food desert, this bill addresses many issues that will help improve both access and food quality:  the Act contains provisions to increase breakfast and the Summer Lunch program, and to make the Afterschool Meal program universal in all 50 states.  This means that kids across the nation who suffer from food insecurity will have access to 3 meals a day during school.  It also expands the purview of the USDA to set guidelines for childcare and adult-care centers, and to offer more support for WIC, including support for breastfeeding mothers.

As a parent who has been working hard both in my own school district and with my elected officials for change in the Child Nutrition Act, I see this bill as a terrific first step forwards.  The six-cent per meal increase doesn't seem like much, but when spread across every child in a school district - say, in our school district alone - that means there's potential for about $2,000 more in reimbursement every week; a powerful incentive to improve the lunches as they stand right now.  Hopefully, as nutrition standards and foods improve in schools, so will access in the food desert - in fact, Walgreen's, a source of pantry staples in the food desert (it's there, hidden on the bottom shelf of the food aisle, but that's where you find things like flour, dried beans, spices, etc,) just announced they will be increasing grocery in all their stores. 

Wouldn't it be great if the need for this blog completely disappeared?

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