Current State of Child Nutrition in the United States
Nearly one in four children in the United States is at risk of hunger. Of the 46.2 million SNAP participants, nearly half are children and 75% are families with children.
A hungry child will have more trouble fighting off sickness, have problems focusing in school, and are less likely to graduate from high school.
School nutrition programs are essential, providing 7 billion meals each year. A meal at school is often a child’s only full meal of the day. With many eligible children not receiving lunch or breakfast, these vital resources are not reaching the children who need them.
Child hunger is often worst in the summer, when children are out of school and do not have access to regular school meals. Summer nutrition programs are essential for filling this gap, but there are not nearly enough sites to meet the need. There are only 34 summer food sites for every 100 school lunch programs. Any church or neighborhood program for children is eligible to take part in the summer nutrition program.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization
The federal Child Nutrition programs focus mainly on two pressing concerns facing the United States—food insecurity and poor nutrition. It is comprised of many programs that address these concerns, including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, Summer Nutrition Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Every five years, many of the programs within the Child Nutrition program must be reauthorized. Reauthorization presents opportunities not only for continued funding of the programs, but also for added improvements in the quality of the programs. Improvements are critically needed, particularly in this time of high unemployment as significantly more children become eligible for the programs.
Reauthorization was originally due for September 2009 but was extended temporarily by Congress for one year due to other pressing issues facing our nation. The Senate passed its version of the reauthorization, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S. 3307) in August 2010, and the House passed it in December.
NETWORK advocates for greater expansion of federal programs to reduce food insecurity, as well as easier access to existing programs. The level of funding available for outreach and enrollment needs to be increased. There needs to be more direct certification, based on eligibility for other safety net programs, additional funding to ensure all eligible children will be able to receive services. We also need to ensure that these programs do not place a social stigma upon children receiving assistance, which is likely to lower their participation in federal meal programs. NETWORK also advocates for further improvement to allow for higher quality foods which are less available for the low-income population, such as fresh produce. Farm-to-School programs are fundamental in providing this nutritious food, as well as supporting local economies. NETWORK supports expansion of Farm-to-School programs.
Child Nutrition and the Military
In recent months, the military has revealed that too many recruits are unable to pass physical exams for service. They report obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes (all of which are nutrition-related) among the causes.
Lack of fitness for military service after World War II spurred the creation of the National School Lunch Program. Given the current health status of potential recruits, NETWORK suggests that some funding be shifted from the Office of Personnel and Readiness of the Department of Defense to help support the child nutrition programs.
"Every person has a right to life and to the material and spiritual support required to live a truly human existence. The right to a truly human life logically leads to the right to enough food to sustain a life with dignity. The poverty and hunger that diminish the lives of millions in our own land and in so many other countries are fundamental threats to human life and dignity and demand a response from believers.” – USCCB, Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers