Reducing Childhood Hunger and Obesity

Mar 30, 2010

By Teresa Lim

In the past three decades, childhood overweight and obesity rates have more than doubled. Moreover, these rates are becoming evident at an earlier age. Nearly a quarter of children, ages 2 to 5, are estimated to be overweight or obese. Childhood obesity can develop into multiple health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, which last into adulthood. Emerging research suggests that there may be a link betwen childhood obesity and brain development. Other research evidence indicates that low-income families, however, may have difficulty in affording healthy foods. Federal nutrition assistance programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), can play a critical role in supporting the healthy growth and development of low-income children, starting in early childhood. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report this month, which outlines the steps that the department is taking to support the health and nutrition needs of low-income families.

In other recent events, Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln of the Senate Agriculture Committee released the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a bill reauthorizing the federal child nutrition programs. The legislation calls for $4.5 billion in new funding over 10 years for the programs and proposes various reforms to WIC, CACFP, as well as the other child nutrition programs.  Examples of reforms include allowing state agencies to extend the eligibility redetermination period for the WIC program and improving the nutritional standards of foods served through CACFP. While the bill provides significant investments for child nutrition programs, the allocation is less than half of what the White House had proposed ($10 billion over 10 years). As Congress moves forward on child nutrition reauthorization, it is important for legislators to consider additional sources of funding and further program improvements to ensure that childhood hunger and obesity are effectively combated. The bill, which was unanimously passed on March 24 by the agriculture committee, now heads to the Senate floor. 

States can also use a wide range of strategies to help low-income families meet their health and nutrition needs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a new report, which finds that the Dependent Care Deduction is an underutilized resource in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. Families may deduct child care and other dependent care expenses from their household income, which is used to determine SNAP benefits. The report identifies opportunities for states to restructure their policies to ensure that eligible families receive the food assistance they need while affording the high costs of child care. In addition, the USDA in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services has recently announced that states may use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support families through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). States may receive an 80 percent reimbursement for SFSP costs.

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