- The Washington Times - Monday, August 24, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

After Congress returns to Capitol Hill next month, lawmakers will consider the Child Nutrition and WIC [Women, Infants and Children] Reauthorization Act, which funds school lunches and other feeding programs. The current law expires Sept. 30, and parents, school food workers and others are hoping Congress does more than merely authorize spending more money.

They want healthier food. They want “real food.”

Currently, the act provides $12 billion to be spent on breakfasts and lunches for 31 million schoolchildren. President Obama put an extra $1 billion for child nutrition programs in his 2010 budget proposal, and first lady Michelle Obama began working with schoolchildren this spring to build an edible garden at the White House and to promote healthier eating habits.

But with the economy still in a downturn, parents and other advocates want more.

Obesity rates recently cited by the U.S. Agriculture Department tell part of the story.

* More than 60 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. This puts them at risk for such serious health problems as diabetes.

c• The numbers for children are no less troubling. An estimated 17 million children in the U.S. are either overweight or obese.

• About 35 percent of young people are at risk of becoming overweight or are already overweight.

Obesity can lead to chronic health problems.

A local nonprofit, Slow Food DC, says nearly 32 percent of children ages 2 to 19 in the United States are considered obese or overweight, and one in three grade-school children will develop diabetes because of poor dietary habits.

While more school districts are offering healthier choices, including vegetarian options, according to a new survey by the School Nutrition Association, Slow Food USA and like-minded organizations are urging Congress to develop child-nutrition policies that proffer “real food” - which Slow Food defines as food that tastes good, is good for you, is good for the people who grow it, is good for the nation and is good for the planet.

As part of that push, Slow Food launched a national effort called Time for Lunch. The project calls for students and teachers and parents and neighbors to organize an eat-in around a potluck. The eat-ins are scheduled for Labor Day.

“In the last few decades, as school budgets have been cut, our nation’s schools have struggled to serve children the real food they need,” said the Annapolis Chapter of the Holistic Moms Network, which is organizing an eat-in. “The deadline for reauthorizing the current Child Nutrition Act is September. Unless we speak up this summer, ‘business as usual’ on Capitol Hill will let Congress pass a Child Nutrition Act that continues to fail our children.”