Congress urged to strengthen Child Nutrition Act

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke on Feb. 23 at a National Press Club Luncheon to highlight the Obama administration's priorities for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. He also urged a rapid passage of a strong reauthorization bill to reduce hunger and improve the health and nutrition of U.S. children.

"The health of our nation — of our economy, our national security, and our communities — depends on the health of our children,” Mr. Vilsack said. “We will not succeed if any of our children aren't learning as they should because they are hungry, and cannot achieve their potential because they aren't healthy. This reauthorization is a critically important opportunity to improve the health of our children and reduce hunger in this country."

Reauthorization of this act is the primary legislation of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, which seeks to solve childhood obesity within a generation.

"The upcoming reauthorization must substantially improve the nutritional quality of the meals being served to our children and play a central role in the Let's Move! campaign's effort to solve childhood obesity in a generation," Mr. Vilsack said.

By passing a strong reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, the administration hopes to reduce hunger, promote access and improve the overall health and nutrition of children in the U.S., according to U.S.D.A.

Priorities include:
 Improve nutrition standards. Establishing improved nutrition standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and taking additional steps to ensure compliance with these standards.

 Increase access to meal programs. Providing tools to increase participation in the school nutrition programs, streamline applications and eliminate gap periods.

 Increase education about healthy eating. Provide parents and students better information about school nutrition and meal quality.

 Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools. Create national baseline standards for all foods sold in elementary, middle and high schools to ensure they contribute effectively to a healthy diet.

 Serve more healthy food. Promote increased consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low- and fat-free dairy products and providing additional financial support in the form of reimbursement rate increases for schools that enhance nutrition and quality.

 Increase physical activity. Strengthen school wellness policy implementation and promote physical activity in schools.

 Train people who prepare school meals. Ensure child nutrition professionals have the skills to serve top-quality meals that are both healthful and appealing to their student customers. Provide schools with better equipment. Help schools with financial assistance to purchase equipment needed to produce healthy, attractive meals.

 Enhance food safety. Expand current requirements of the food-safety program to all facilities where food is stored, prepared and served.

U.S.D.A.'s support for a 'Race to the Top' concept for states willing to take strides toward reducing and eliminating hunger in their communities was also announced. U.S.D.A. will provide competitive grants to governors to implement creative and innovative approaches to eliminating hunger through this program.
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