Healthier lunches needed, won’t cost the poor

When most remember grade school, they recall sloppy joes and other unhealthy lunch options. While U.S. school cafeteria workers do their best to provide healthy, delicious meals for children, they are severely hindered by limited resources.

On May 5, Michelle Obama unveiled the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” which would grant public schools increased funding to produce more nutritious meals, taking a step to reduce childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity is a serious epidemic. According to a 2008 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 18.1 percent of Americans age 12 to 19 are obese, a tremendous increase in obesity levels from the late 1980s when it was only 10.5 percent.

According to a survey in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, nearly one in three children in the U.S. are overweight.

Ensuring that the next generation of youth is healthier is an idea that politicians across the spectrum can agree with, as skyrocketing medical costs reflect the growing problem.

However, members of Congress continue to argue over the proposed method to fund this $4.5 billion plan, which includes diverting funds from the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 40 million people nationwide are receiving food stamps, and a preliminary estimate in 2009 shows more than $50 billion was spent last year to fund the program. According to CNN, the proposal would take $2.2 billion from SNAP, amounting to a cut of less than 5 percent.

Thanks to the recession, food stamp participation has shot up 51 percent since 2007, according to the New York Times. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits declined by 16,000 last week, according to Labor Department figures, signaling that unemployment will reach its peak and bottom out. Although there are still tough times ahead, a recovery is in the works.

As hard working Americans get back on their feet, less funding will be necessary for SNAP because fewer people will need its assistance. With this in mind, a 5 percent cut does not seem strenuous to SNAP.

Proponents seek to use $4.5 billion over the course of 10 years, meaning that the $2.2 billion sought from SNAP would not be taken in one lump sum but instead in small portions over time. Assuming cutbacks are handled properly by experts, with respect to the economic conditions of tomorrow, the needy will be virtually unaffected.

Taking such actions would not only combat a growing obesity epidemic, but also signify faith that our economic conditions will improve in the next few years and that those just beginning to use food stamps will not indefinitely need them.

Xavier Vega is a columnist for The Oracle at the University of South Florida and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.