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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Reducing Childhood Obesity and Malnutrition

jhartrick

This week, I (Diana) was lucky enough to be on a conference call with Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, along with hundreds of other representatives of anti-hunger organizations, schools, and those concerned with child nutrition. The conference call, which detailed the Obama administration's call to improve the Child Nutrition Act, came a day after the official launch of Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign and two days after his speech at the National Press Club, where he insisted on eliminating "Pepsi, French fries and Snickers bars from the nation’s schools."
 

Working for a program that deals with nutrition for low-income families, it has been fantastic to see the political will on the federal level to address the issues in our food system. Janet McLaughlin, director of Operation Frontline, was able to attend the First Lady's announcement of Let's Move, saying,

It might seem odd for an anti-hunger organization to be at an anti-obesity event. But there is a natural alignment. Hunger is, at its core, a health issue. Whether we call ourselves anti-hunger activists, health advocates, or anti-obesity campaigners, we are all working to ensure that kids eat the nutritious foods they need to lead active and healthy lives.

...

I believe our role as a nonprofit with a mission to “end hunger and poverty” is to use our efforts and influence to ensure that kids with the least get the most benefit from the Let’s Move campaign.

As I wrote in a previous post, the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is a critical moment in improving school lunches and other federally-funded programs. In Vilsack's statement with the press and on the conference call, he made certain priorities known - a "wish list" for what he would like to see in the new Child Nutrition Act:

  1. Allocate more resources to ensure that all children who qualify for federal programs through the act (including school lunches and breakfasts) actually benefit from them
  2. Increase participation in schools offering breakfast and lunch programs
  3. Improve nutritional quality of meals offered through schools
  4. Reach children through non-school days
  5. Improve the message of quality and nutrition in schools (such as the items found in vending machines)
  6. Encourage schools to implement wellness policies, which promote physical activity
  7. Provide more information for parents and children about the meals being served in school
  8. Strenthen the link between local farmers and schools

The message offered both by Vilsack and the First Lady is one that is both refreshing and inspiring for those of us who work to eradicate childhood hunger. I feel that I can tentatively say - Yes, they finally get it. I sincerely hope that this new campaign is successful!