"I am thrilled that Congress has taken a major step forward today in passing the Child Nutrition bill – a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will help us provide healthier school meals to children across America and will play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity," Mrs. Obama said in a statement released shortly after the bill was passed. "While childhood obesity cannot be solved overnight, with everyone working together, there's no question that it can be solved -- and today's vote moves us one step closer to reaching that goal."
Obesity has rapidly become one of the biggest public health challenges facing the country; in the U.S. roughly a third of children and teens are obese. "This bill will help us take head-on the epidemics of childhood obesity, diabetes and other diet related diseases," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said.
The House version of the bill, the "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act," was approved last month by the Education and Labor Committee but the full House has yet to take it up. The House version is more expansive and would provide $8 billion for school nutrition programs, a figure more in line with the president's request for an unprecedented $10 billion in the FY2011 budget to overhaul the Child Nutrition Act.
Critics of the House legislation have questioned the hefty price tag.
"Calls for long-term increases in spending on school meal programs are irresponsible," Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, testified before a House hearing last month.
"I have spent my entire career ... on this kind of spending and I can tell you I absolutely have no idea where all that money goes," Rector said. "Before you propose spending even more money, you ought to at least have a reasonable accounting of where this money is currently going."