Children may already be out of school for summer, but their school lunches can't catch a break.
First Lady Michelle Obama is fighting back after Republicans in Congress introduced a bill that would let schools opt-out of nutrition standards set in place in 2010. As part of a $143.5 billion Agriculture Department spending bill, schools will be given an extra year to comply with federal health standards that promote fruits, veggies, and whole grains and limit fat and salt.
"It gives schools an opt-out saying you don't have to participate in the school lunch program because it's hard," Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California told CNN. "Well, we don't tell kids, 'Look you don't have to take math if it's hard or science if it's hard. You don't have do P.E. if it's hard.'"
Last week, the healthy school lunch efforts suffered a setback when Democrats failed to get enough votes in committee to strip the language about school lunches from the proposed bill. This means the bill was sent to the House of Representatives for full consideration.
And the First Mom hasn't been silent on the issue, either. Mrs. Obama often stays away from legislative issues, but when it comes to our kids, she has let her voice be heard.
"Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches?" Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last week. "You don't have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn't make much sense. Yet we're seeing the same thing happening again with these new efforts to lower nutrition standards in our schools."
"Our children deserve so much better than this," she continued. "Even with the progress we have made, one in three children in this country is still overweight or obese."
She has my support in this fight.
This isn't about politics. Children have the right to the pursuit of happiness, and we can't just sit by and watch that pursuit cut short due to preventable health issues.
As of now, 90 percent of schools already comply with these school-lunch standards. Standards that stop the promotion and sale of junk food in schools. Standards that require schools to provide REAL veggies and fruits instead of making it optional. (Even Elmo is helping the cause!)
In February, federal health authorities reported a 43 percent drop over the past decade in obesity among children ages 2-5.
"This generation is now entering our school system," Executive Director of Let's Move! and White House staffer Sam Kass said. "Our schools must be a place that really continue to foster and support their health and wellbeing, and that's what this is all about."
And while the argument can be made that the $10 billion of taxpayers' money going into school lunches every year is excessive, just compare that to the $190 billion taxpayers shell out every year to treat obesity-related conditions.
But the fight for healthier kids is more than dollars and cents. A recent Atlantic article revealed most kids in a Los Angeles' school system did not take a veggie from the lunch line, instead choosing a processed alternative.
If we know children who have the choice would pick sugary, processed food over healthier ones, why would we give them the option? As pointed out in the article, school cafeterias tend to give children what they want, and not what they need.
We are finally starting to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Why take a step backwards now?
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