President Barack Obama signed into law a measure to expand and make federal school meal programs healthier and available to more children in an effort to combat childhood hunger and obesity.
At an appearance at a Washington elementary school with first lady Michelle Obama, who has taken on the cause of encouraging healthier eating among children, the president said obesity takes an economic toll on the U.S. In addition to the greater costs for treating diseases associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, students who have poor nutrition don’t do as well in school, he said.
“This act is about doing what’s right for our children,” Obama said to a group that included students, teachers, members of Congress and administration officials at Harriet Tubman Elementary School. “We need to make sure our kids have the energy and the capacity to go toe to toe with any of their peers around the world.”
The $4.5 billion “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” will expand the availability of school lunches and add more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and skim and low fat milk on the menu at public schools.
Michelle Obama said the law aims to give children “a healthy start in life.”
The law has national security implications as well, she said, because one in four young people are rejected for military service because they are overweight.
The Senate passed the bill in August and the House passed it Dec. 2. It directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish nutritional standards.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Dec. 10 conference call that his aim is to “make the healthy choice the easiest and best choice” for school children.
The president pushed Congress to pass the legislation as part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which has set a goal of eliminating childhood obesity through exercise and better nutrition.
In a statement the day the House passed the bill, Michelle Obama called it “a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation.” She said it will “significantly improve the quality of meals that children receive at school and will play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity.”
Almost 20 percent of 6-to 11-year-olds were considered obese in 2007-2008, according to a study by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese children are more likely to have health issues like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure according to the CDC.