Child obesity is a crisis in this country. Over the last 30 years, child obesity rates have reached historic highs - more than tripling from just 5 percent to nearly 18 percent today. We must make improving child nutrition a top priority. If we fail to get serious about this issue today, we will face very serious consequences down the road.
To get people focused on this emerging issue, I asked Rachael Ray to come to Washington last week to help me lobby my colleagues in Congress on the Child Nutrition bill.
Rachael is so much more than just another celebrity with a cause. She likes to say that she will use "her big Sicilian mouth" to fight for what is important - and she does. She has already dedicated so much effort and energy to this cause through her non-profit organization, Yum-o!, empowering children and their families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking.
Like you, Rachael understands that when kids don't get healthy food at school, it holds them back not only in class but over the course of their entire lives. It leads to lower test scores, and serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Ultimately, child obesity costs our country $150 billion per year in health care costs. As Rachael said last week, we can invest now and provide our children with healthy, nutritious food and education or pay a whole lot more in the years to come. We must invest in improving the health of our children today.
Currently, the federal government provides just $2.68 to cover the labor, equipment and food cost of each eligible child's school lunch. This is outrageously low. The Child Nutrition bill we're moving forward in the Senate increases this reimbursement rate by 6 cents. It is a laudable start, but it is still not enough.
I believe we need a much more robust investment. Investing 70 cents more in the reimbursement rate would enable schools to provide the healthy, nutritious meals our children need to lead healthy and successful lives. Schools stand ready to help our children, but they need our support.
The minimum increase we should settle for is 10 cents per child, which is the amount that the Institute of Medicine has said is the minimum required to lead to any sort of meaningful improvement to our children's nutrition. This is also consistent with the amount that is provided in President Obama's budget put forth earlier this year.
But our advocacy can not end here. I'm also working to improve the Child and Adult Care Food program by adding dinner to the menu so that all of our children are getting access to three healthy meals each day. In addition, we absolutely must ban artificial trans fats from all school lunches and index school meal eligibility to cost of living so that families in high cost areas like New York City have fair access. Child obesity is a crisis and we need to treat it as one.
These are the issues I'm fighting for from my position on the Senate Agriculture Committee and I am so grateful to Rachael Ray for coming to DC to lend her support for this important fight. When she was here, we sat in front of a classroom of children at Payne Elementary School and spoke with them about what they're learning about healthy eating and nutrition. Children created art projects depicting a healthy plate of food, they told us what they learned about healthy eating and I believe these kids are on a path toward healthy fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, I'm afraid they're the exception, not the rule.
It is time for us in Congress to make this investment a top priority and take real steps toward ending our nation's childhood obesity epidemic. Thank you Rachael for your advocacy. I hope everyone else will join us in this important effort.