Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids

An important update of federal child-nutrition law took effect this month, with unanimous support in the U.S. Senate and with bipartisan backing in the U.S. House. The legislation better connects eligible children with free school meals. The law also expands and improves breakfast programs. It helps make headway against childhood obesity and improves the nutritional value of meals by strengthening nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, providing more funds and training to improve meal quality, and supporting farm-to-school programs and school gardens.

The new law also fulfills an AFT resolution passed in 2000 aiming at curbing “competitive foods”—unhealthy treats like sugar- and fat-laden sweets that clubs sell as fundraisers, sometimes daily and sometimes as an alternative to lunch. The legislation applies to all foods sold during regular class hours at school, including not just cafeteria offerings but also items in vending machines. It doesn’t apply after school. The Obama administration has assured schools that new federal rule-making under this law will not hinder occasional PTA bake sales or concession stands at sports events.

Even with this important progress, AFT continues to remind congressional leaders that more must be done to end child hunger in America and prevent childhood obesity. Congress and the administration still have unfinished business to increase access to child nutrition programs—addressing gaps during weekends, summers and breakfast—and to strengthen the food-stamp program.