08/06/2010 04:54 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Childhood Nutrition at School

According to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010, in the United States, nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight. Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges the country has ever faced, and troubling disparities exist based on race, ethnicity, region, and income.

In 2003, the National Survey on Children's Health (NSCH) found that only three states plus D.C. had childhood obesity rates higher than 20 percent. Four years later, in 2007, the NSCH found that eight states and D.C. had childhood obesity rates over 20 percent. Additionally, nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obese children are in the South, as are nine out of the 10 states with the highest rates of poverty.

Millions of Americans, especially children, still face barriers that make healthy choices challenging. Some of these obstacles are beyond their control, such as access to nutritious foods in the area in which they live.

Yesterday, the Senate passed the Child Nutrition Bill. Once signed in to law, it will help ensure that children have access to healthy foods at school.

As First Lady Michelle Obama wrote in the Washington Post this week, "the bill will make it easier for the tens of millions of children who participate in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program -- and many others who are eligible but not enrolled -- to get the nutritious meals they need to do their best. It will set higher nutritional standards for school meals by requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing fat and salt. It will offer rewards to schools that meet those standards. And it will help eliminate junk food from vending machines and a la carte lines -- a major step that is supported by parents, health-experts, and many in the food and beverage industry."

A recent survey commissioned by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and TFAH finds that eight in 10 American voters believe childhood obesity is a serious problem and that this viewpoint transcends all demographic boundaries. A vast majority of people in every group identified--regardless of political party, ideology, geographic location, gender, age, education, income, race or ethnicity -- agree that childhood obesity is a serious problem.

The Childhood Nutrition Bill provides us with an opportunity to ensure that children across the country have access to healthy foods at school regardless of their race, ethnicity, region, and income. That's one way we can make healthy choices easy choices.