07/14/2010 11:09 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Saving Our Children

Hunger and obesity. It might seem odd to find these epidemics mentioned together, but they are two of the greatest threats to the health of America's children and the future of our nation.

And Congress is running out of time to do something about it.

Childhood hunger and obesity are problems known all too well in my home state of Arkansas. A recent Feeding America report found our state to have the highest rate of childhood hunger in the country at nearly 25 percent. That's one in four children living in hunger.

Another report found 20 percent of Arkansas children to be obese, the seventh highest rate in the country.

As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, I have authored the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which addresses these two threats by making strong improvements to our federal child nutrition programs. Funding authorization for these programs expires in 78 days.

Children who are hungry or obese will face learning challenges and lifelong health problems. And their poor health will add significant cost to our health care system and a significant cost to our nation's future economic security.

Fortunately, hunger is a disease for which we have the cure. And we know healthier meals are part of the solution to reverse the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

But time is running out, and current programs expire on September 30. If we fail to enact this critically-needed legislation, we will have to expand current law and our children will be forced to live with the status quo. That's why I hope you will take action now. Washington's leaders need to know that you stand behind our nation's greatest blessings, our children.

My counterpart in the House of Representatives, Congressman George Miller, and I have sent a letter to President Obama urging him to make child nutrition reauthorization a top priority of his Administration over the next two months. You can help by adding your name to this letter on behalf of our children and our future.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 unanimously passed my committee earlier this year and is completely paid for. It is a common sense solution that provides additional resources to help our schools serve healthier meals. For the first time in nearly 40 years, Congress would provide an increase in the reimbursement rate for schools that agree to serve healthier lunches. I have spoken to dozens of Arkansas school food professionals who tell me these additional funds are desperately needed.

For the first time ever, the Secretary of Agriculture would have the authority to establish national nutrition standards for all food sold at schools. This will mean that healthier, more nutritious foods will be more widely available throughout the school campus. For parents, they can be more comfortable knowing that less nutritious options will be reduced. My bill also reduces the bureaucratic red tape that inhibits families from receiving the school meals for which they are eligible.

Nationwide, over 30 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program each day, including more than 350,000 Arkansas children. More than 10 million children participate in the breakfast program, 18,000 of them in Arkansas. We have a real opportunity to improve access and food quality in these and other life-sustaining programs.

A bipartisan majority of Senators and House members are already on record supporting reauthorization of our child nutrition programs. We must not squander this historic opportunity to make strong improvements to our child nutrition programs that will put us on a path toward ending childhood hunger and reversing the trend of childhood obesity.

Congress has 78 days to send a robust child nutrition bill to the President to avoid another extension of current law. By taking action now and adding your name to our letter today, you can show that you're standing with our children. It's for their future, and for our own future.