With Congress returning to session this week, the question on everyone's mind is "what can really be done in a lame duck session?" For more than 32 million children who rely on federal nutrition programs, the answer is -- a whole lot.
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act -- legislation that would increase the nutritional quality of all foods served on school campuses -- stands to drastically improve the long term health of our children. The bill goes further than simply reauthorizing existing programs, and for the first time in nearly 40 years, it would allocate an increase in the reimbursement rate for schools that agree to serve healthier lunches. And, with the staggering costs of the obesity epidemic ever growing, it is an investment we cannot afford to miss.
With nearly one in three children overweight or obese, today's kids face a lifetime full of chronic disease stemming from obesity. In fact, by the time America's children become adults, they are significantly more likely to develop diabetes, osteoarthritis, stroke, dementia, heart disease and even many forms of cancer. As a result, we are not only facing a $168 billion (and growing) annual tab in health care costs stemming from obesity-related illness, but today's kids they may live shorter lifespans than their parents.
With so much on the line, change is not only financially savvy, it is vitally urgent. By passing this bill, Congress would be making more nutritious foods more accessible throughout school campuses, reducing less nutritious options, and taking tangible steps towards giving our youth a fair shot at good, lasting health.
In addition to unprecedented need, there is also unprecedented support for the bill. In August, the Senate demonstrated extraordinary bipartisan support and passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act unanimously. And just last week, more than 1,100 groups -- from public health and anti-hunger groups, to education and faith-based advocates, to children's, women's and minority groups, to unions, and the Campaign to End Obesity -- signed a letter that asks House members to immediately pass the childhood nutrition reauthorization upon their return.
When it comes to reversing the obesity epidemic, the old adage is true: the best offense is a good defense. We can begin to reverse the obesity epidemic by taking this opportunity for a proactive approach to good health from an early age. Our schools must be models of good nutrition. Our federal food programs must facilitate healthy eating. And our campuses must make healthy foods more accessible.
If action is taken quickly by the House of Representatives to pass the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act in the next days, we have a real opportunity to not only improve the access and quality of nutritious foods, but to create landmark initiatives that will sustain the next generation of our youth.