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Hearing of the House Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the Education and the Workforce Committee - School Meal Regulations

Location: Washington, DC

Good morning and thank you, Chairman, for holding this hearing today. First, I want to join my colleagues on both sides in sending our well wishes to the Ranking Member of this Subcommittee, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy. Her expertise, thoughtful insight and warmth are certainly missed, but we look forward to having her back as soon as possible and wish her a speedy recovery. I would also like to thank the panel of witnesses for being with us here today and I look forward to hearing from you momentarily.

In 2010, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This bipartisan legislation dramatically improved federal child nutrition programs by increasing access and improving the standards of the foods served to our children. This legislation updated our nation's nutrition guidelines, which had not been revised in over a decade.

It is our moral imperative to ensure that kids are getting the healthy meals they need to be able to succeed in school and throughout life. Failing to provide our nation's youth with nutritious meals has several negative consequences. Food that is too high in fat content and calories contributes to childhood obesity.

We know that obese children are not only at higher risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, but they are also more likely to struggle with their weight as adults. The medical costs of the U.S. obesity epidemic are enormous -- approximately 10% of our nation's health care spending goes toward treating conditions related to unhealthy weight. Conversely, food that is insufficiently nutritious fails to give children the sustenance they need to focus in school. For millions of children in the United States, school-provided meals are their primary source of nutrition, and we know that children cannot learn on an empty stomach.

Research clearly shows that children who have access to healthy school meals are healthier and perform better than children who do not. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that children who lack reliable, healthy meals in kindergarten are noticeably behind their peers in reading and math by the third grade.

A 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that students eating free or low-cost meals in states where the nutritional content of lunches exceeded USDA standards were less likely to be overweight or obese than students getting these meals in states that only marginally met the USDA nutrition standards.

In addition to being evidence-based, we also know that school lunch programs based on nutrition standards are strongly supported by the public. A June 2013 Kaiser Permanente survey found that 90% of Americans believe schools should take a role in combating obesity and more than 80% of people support the new federal nutritional standards for school meals.

Furthermore, school districts across the country are successfully implementing the standards established in The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. School administrators tell us that their students are now eating more fruits, vegetables, and food cooked from scratch, and learning about ways to continue eating healthy throughout their lives.

I am glad that today we have an opportunity discuss the regulations that govern the school meal programs and possible ways to improve and strengthen them. It is important throughout this process that we keep in mind the goal of these nutrition programs: to provide children with healthy foods that can support them as they receive an education.

This is our goal, and while Congress is and should be actively involved in crafting the policy to achieve that goal, we must make sure that school meal guidelines are crafted based on evidence and science, and not the political whims of politicians. While we investigate possible ways to improve school meal programs, it is important to remember that if we want the next generation to be stronger, smarter, and healthier, then we need to invest in these nutrition programs to make sure that we are doing the best that we can for our children.

We must make sure that the county's future doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, and business owners are being put on a path to success, and providing them with nutritious foods is very much part of that obligation.

With that, I again thank everyone for being here this morning and yield back to the Chairman.

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