Debate Forum Topic 10/20/10

CHILD OBESITY LEGISLATION STALLS IN THE U.S. HOUSE

According to a number of studies, childhood obesity in America is at epidemic levels. In the last 30 years the number of children who are overweight has tripled to 15 percent. When you add the overweight and obese statistics together, the problem becomes crystal clear. One-third of the nation’s children are simply carrying too much weight.

There are many of reasons why child obesity in America is on the rise. First, studies show that children and teenagers are not eating the right kinds of foods. Second, America’s children are getting less and less exercise on a daily basis. The mixture of fast food diets along with sedentary lifestyles is creating a generation of children who are facing very adult health issues like high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthier school lunches has stalled in Congress after anti-hunger groups and more than a hundred Democrats protested the use of food stamp dollars to pay for it. The first lady has lobbied aggressively for the legislation as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity.

Passage of the Child Nutrition bill, which would improve lunches in schools and expand feeding programs for low-income students, has been a priority for Democrats and hunger groups for years. But the groups and many members of the House switched sides when leaders proposed a vote on a Senate-passed version of the legislation that uses future funding for food stamp programs. The Senate-passed bill would provide $4.5 billion over 10 years to expand access to free school lunches and after-school meals for low-income children. It would also require more nutritious meals and increase the amount schools are reimbursed for providing free lunches.

Anti-hunger advocates denounced the bill, which was to be funded in part by $2 billion in cuts to the federal food stamp program, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The reduction, according to the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center, would have cut $59 from a typical family of four’s monthly food budget. Calling such cuts egregious, 106 Democrats wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in August.

Casting the funding as “cuts” to the SNAP program is a mischaracterization, according to some public health advocates. The $2 billion would have come from a temporary increase to SNAP that was passed in 2009 to cover a predicted inflation of food prices that never materialized. It was pointed out that all 106 signatories of the Pelosi letter voted for a bill, passed in August, which took $12 billion from the temporary SNAP funds in order to provide an increase in pay for teachers’ jobs.

If passed, the new nutrition standards would not completely remove popular foods like hamburgers from schools, but would make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat buns, for example. In addition, vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Should Congress re-consider First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy School Lunch legislation upon their return to Washington after the midterm elections?


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