Controversies Arise About Health Hunger-Free Kids Act

Jan. 3, 2011
Food companies are in for a huge task when it comes to curbing child obesity while making sure parents understand the financial and caloric costs of eating.
Obesity: Like Father, Like Son
More than one third of U.S. adults—more than 72 million—people and 17 percent of U.S. children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta. During the past several decades, obesity rates for all groups in society regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region have increased markedly. From 1980 through 2008, obesity rates for adults doubled and tripled for children. 

Children and adolescents are now developing obesity-related diseases, such as Type-2 diabetes, that in the past were seen only in adults. One study of 5- to 17-year-olds found that 70 percent of obese children had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and 39 percent had at least two risk factors.

Many within the food industry greeted passage of the legislation with enthusiasm including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Food Marketing Association (FMI), American Bakers Association, Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), and the International Dairy Foods Association. Some Republicans, however, say the nutrition bill is too costly and an example of government overreach, most notably Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. He was opposed to and voted against the bill, saying, "It's not about making our children healthy and active. We all want to see our children healthy and active. This is about spending and the role of government and the size of government — a debate about whether we're listening to our constituents or not."

One of the most controversial provisions regulates prices for lunches served to children with family incomes over 185 percent of the poverty level (more than $40,793 a year for a family of four), requiring some schools to raise their lunch prices, according to the Congressional Budget Office. As Kline argued, "This provision is tantamount to a tax increase on middle class families."

Cash Reimbursements
Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the National School Lunch Program comes in the form of a cash reimbursement for each meal served. * The current (July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011) basic cash reimbursement rates if school food authorities served less than 60 percent free and reduced price lunches during the second preceding school year are:

  • Free lunches     $2.72
  • Reduced-price lunches        $2.32
  • Paid lunches     $0.26
  • Free snacks     $0.74
  • Reduced-price snacks     $0.37
  • Paid snacks    $0.06

Parents Skeptical About Role of Calories in Diet
Talk about disconnect, when it comes to calories, parents lack a basic understanding of their impact on weight and may even be skeptical that calories are just the latest food and nutrition fad. New research, conducted by the Dietary Guidelines Alliance shows that only 14 percent of parents say they are consistently paying attention to the calories their families consume; even fewer (9 percent) say it would be the easiest thing for their family to do on a regular basis. These findings come at a time when several leading health organizations and initiatives have identified balancing calories consumed and burned is a key factor to combating the global obesity epidemic.

When asked to rate five key behaviors in terms of how important they are to the healthfulness of their family's diet, parents ranked the following as most important: Serving foods and beverages that are nutrient rich (such as whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables) more often (82 percent); Making an effort to balance amount of foods and beverages consumed with amount of physical activity (74 percent); Paying attention to the amount of foods and beverages served and eaten (69 percent); Managing higher-calorie food and beverage choices in a way that does not impact weight (67 percent); and Paying attention to calories consumed from foods and beverages (52 percent).
"Parents will soon hear lots more about managing calories from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign to various food labeling initiatives," says Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, senior vice president, nutrition and food safety at the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC). "This research helps us identify where gaps exist in communicating effective messages on dietary guidance to consumers."

*Higher reimbursement rates are in effect for Alaska and Hawaii, and for schools with high percentages of low-income students. For the latest reimbursement rates visit FNS website. 

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