Child health advocates just got a treat from the House Education and Labor Committee: a major child nutrition bill that comes with an endorsement from Michelle Obama, who has taken on childhood obesity as her main platform.
The bill targets some of the major barriers to nutrition among low-income children, which feed into the obesity epidemic, hunger, and sickness prevalent in poor communities of color. The bill isn’t the comprehensive answer that advocates have called for—it’s focused on kids rather than a full-scale overhaul of regional food systems. Yet it does reflect a broader perspective on the link between children’s health and what we put on their plates.
One main provision, for example, is encouraging communities to set up “farm to school networks” that bring fresh local produce into cafeterias. The bill would also push districts toward school-wide eligibility policies for subsidized meals, doing away with enrollment barriers that limit access for low-income children. Such programs have been piloted with notable success in Philadelphia. Summer and after school meal programs would also get a boost under the legislation.
The bill aims to strengthen nutrition education initiatives in schools and in child care and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) programs. WIC moms would get extra help through breastfeeding promotion programs and extended certification periods for their families.
But a single bill won’t sate urban communities’ urgent need for better nutrition. Only a combination of federal support and local creativity that will deliver food justice to the hardest hit neighborhoods, where food deserts and parched economies make it a struggle for a low-income family just to stay fed, let alone worry about organic lettuce or whole grains. To that end, the House bill may add muscle to innovative local food initiatives like New York’s Foodprint social mapping program.
If your community is part of the growing movement for equitable, community-based child nutrition, chew on this new bill and tell us what you think.
Photo: Farm to School