House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.

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Committee Statement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2, 2010

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
or Ryan Murphy
(202) 225-4527

Kline Statement: Hearing on “Improving Children's Health: Strengthening Federal Child Nutrition Programs”

Thank you Chairman Miller, and good afternoon. Today we will examine federal child nutrition programs with an eye toward improving children’s health. Childhood obesity rates are a serious concern for parents and families, and they present a challenge to the health of our nation as a whole. What children eat at school certainly plays a role in their overall nutrition, so I welcome this opportunity to look at what parents and local schools are doing to promote healthy eating habits.

The last time we reauthorized the federal nutrition programs, Congress called on school districts to establish local wellness policies as a way to promote good health and engage parents in a discussion about nutrition and physical activity. In fact, it was Representative Mike Castle who took the lead on addressing children’s health through these local wellness policies.

Local policies are the most direct and responsive strategy for promoting healthy eating habits at home and at school. They allow schools to get buy-in and involvement from parents and students. They account for demographic and economic differences, as well as local food preferences. And they avoid the dangers of a one-size-fits-all federal approach to school menu planning.

Of course, the school breakfast and lunch programs are not the only initiatives to support child nutrition. When Congress reauthorizes child nutrition programs, we will also look at the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Women Infants and Children program, commonly known as WIC. Together, these programs help combat hunger and promote nutrition through meals, education, and subsidies to low-income Americans.

Our goal in renewing these programs should be to strike the appropriate balance between federal support and local leadership. With local wellness policies and other initiatives, school districts are exploring a broad range of policies to promote better health and combat hunger.

I would caution as we prepare to renew and extend these programs that we not confuse support for a healthy school environment with federal mandates for what children and their families are allowed to eat. One report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that radical changes might actually undermine participation in the school lunch program, saying “If schoolchildren are not satisfied with the taste of foods served in school meals, participation in school meal programs is likely to decrease.”

That is not to say that school meals should not be nutritious. But ultimately, good health habits begin at home. That’s why it is important for local schools to have the flexibility to work with parents to develop policies that work for their students.

Local schools also need the flexibility to determine what food is sold outside the cafeteria. Many schools are voluntarily including healthy snacks in their vending machines or at extracurricular events. But ultimately, it is local control over food policy that allows for innovation while still responding to each school’s unique circumstances.

We’ve all heard the outrageous stories in which a piece of banana bread at a bake sale does not meet nutritional standards, but a bag of chips meets the requirements. Clearly, arbitrary nutritional mandates can backfire when they override commonsense.

I hope we’ll keep these cautionary tales in mind as we explore how parents and local schools can improve children’s health. Thank you Chairman Miller, I yield back.

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