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Subsidized school lunches saves more children from hunger | Healthy Living
The number of school children receiving free or subsidized meals is skyrocketing. Many come from families that until recently counted themselves as solidly middle class. As the economy continues to sputter, the youngest members of society often suffer the greatest hardships.
The latest data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show an increase of students qualifying for free or low-cost school lunches to 21 million (up from 18 million in 2007), a 17 percent rise. In some states, it is closer to 25 percent. The USDA, which administers the national school lunch program, reported that not since 1972 have so many children become eligible in such a short time.
Since its inception in 1946, the school lunch program has steadily expanded and has now a $10.8 billion annual budget, providing 32 million meals every day, 21 million of which are free or subsidized. Children from families of four with annual incomes of under $30K qualify for free meals, while subsidies are available to those from households with less than $42K.
Because of the increasing need, some school districts have added free breakfast – and even supper programs to prevent children from going hungry. But in most places funds are too limited to meet the demand.
These statistics reflect nothing less than a rapidly growing national crisis. What happens when children are not in school during vacation times with no access to regular meals? What happens to children who are continuously malnourished, missing out on key nutrients essential for their healthy growth?
Young children are most vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition. During growth spurts they need large amounts of calories, protein, fat and vitamins and nutrients. A healthy start can make that all the more possible. But that’s not what’s happening today for so many youngsters.
Instead, childhood obesity is reaching crisis level.
Often it’s the poorest kids who suffer from weight problems because the junk food their parents can afford to buy them makes them sick.
Only access to good nutrition at home and in schools could turn the tide.
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, America is no longer the land of plenty we took for granted just a short while ago, certainly not for all, perhaps not for most.
The question is what we are going to do about it.
We can’t simply ignore the fact that millions of children in our midst don’t have enough or the right kind of food to eat.
The damage that is being done to their health at a young age will continue to hold them back for the rest of their lives. We cannot ignore the dire consequences this will have for us all.
A society full of sick people is not viable. Nothing less than the country’s future is at stake.
Asking to invest more money in the school lunch program to expand its services and improve its quality is not easy at a time when budget cuts and austerity measures are all the talk in Washington.
But this is an emergency situation and we have to get our priorities straight. Americans have always pulled together when the country’s security was threatened. This is one these moments.
Kirkland resident Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.”