12/07/2010 10:59 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Child Nutrition Bill: Passing It Is a Win for Children

The landmark passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 comes amidst some debate that the food our children eat in school should be a decision made by families, and families alone.

Indeed, for many Americans, family decisions are what form the bottom line of our health, and we owe parents all the information and education possible in order to help make healthy choices easy choices. Yet, at the same time, we must also not lose sight of one very striking reality: For 32 million children who rely on federal food programs, the nutrition they receive in the lunch line may be the main -- or only -- source of sustenance they receive in a day. For those kids -- our next generation -- they both need and deserve the more well-rounded nutrition that will come from this strong legislation.

In fact, the bill's passage comes not a moment too soon. In the last 30 years, the CDC reports that childhood obesity has tripled. With nearly one in three children struggling with overweight or obesity, today's kids face a lifetime full of chronic diseases, from diabetes to hypertension to cardiovascular disease and even cancer. In fact, they may even live shorter lifespans than their parents.

As this bill moves to President Obama for his signature, we gain a unique opportunity to reverse this trend and give our children a fair shot at good health. Simply put, the measure will make more nutritious foods more accessible throughout school campuses and reduce less nutritious options. The millions of children who very much need healthy school meals will see increased reimbursement for them. And for all kids, it promotes overall wellness through increased nutritional standards and physical activity.

Of course, the legislation also represents a strong investment in reducing unsustainable strains on our nation's health care system. New research suggests that Americans face a $168 billion annual tab in health care costs stemming from obesity-related illness. Put in perspective, that's nearly 17 percent of all U.S. medical costs that can be attributed to obesity. If for no other reason, it is imperative that Congress continue to take steps like this one that can begin to reverse the obesity epidemic for the long-haul.

With this victory achieved, we now look ahead to the new Congress to continue investing in our nation's health. And, with such measures as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and multi-year transportation funding, Congress will have important opportunities to further expand physical activity and education for both children and adults -- measures that can continue enabling families to make healthy choices that are both easy and accessible.