Senior Policy Analyst
The Senate today will begin considering its annual Agriculture Department funding bill, which covers the child nutrition programs. The bill already includes measures promoted by industry lobbyists that would undercut reforms designed to improve children’s nutrition and combat childhood obesity. Senators must reject any amendments that would further weaken reforms, as we explain in an updated commentary.
Child obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years and poses a serious health threat. Recently, we have made some progress. The rise in child obesity rates has halted, and obesity may even be falling among preschoolers. A multi-pronged response to child obesity by the federal government and health professionals appears to be playing an important role in these developments. Federal policy reforms in child nutrition programs — such as the 2009 revisions to the WIC food package — may have contributed to improved diets and the halt in the rise in obesity rates among low-income preschool children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, a Harvard study found that children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables increased by 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively, after new school meal standards were implemented.
But these reforms are now in jeopardy. In three areas where, at Congress’s direction, the Agriculture Department has implemented policies to improve children’s diets based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine — school meals, school snacks, and foods offered by the WIC program — affected industries are seeking to reverse those science-based policies in the agriculture appropriations bills.
The Agriculture Department funding bill adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is now before the full Senate, includes a few modest revisions to the new meal standards aimed at maintaining a science-based approach to nutrition policy and helping school districts comply. The bill does interfere with the science-based process for WIC, however, by requiring the program to offer white potatoes — though the next science-based review of WIC foods would determine whether WIC would continue to offer white potatoes.
If senators want to continue the recent progress in improving children’s diets and halting the spread of child obesity, they must reject changes that would weaken the new school food standards or further override the science-based process for determining WIC foods.