Rep. McCarthy delivers her opening statement at a hearing before the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities called Examining Innovative Practices to Improve Child Nutrition.
Number one, I would like to welcome everybody. Today we will examine innovative practices which will help increase access to child nutrition programs and to more healthy food for our children in our schools.
Increased access for our schoolchildren is a critical issue as we move forward in work on the child nutrition reauthorization. Given the current harsh financial realities for many families in my district and throughout the nation, schools have an increasingly important role to play in providing children with nutritious food during their days. As a nurse for over 30 years, I have seen firsthand the risks and illnesses that can result from poor eating habits.
There is also a surplus of data that indicates that well-nourished students perform better throughout the day and are less likely to become obese. We have all heard our parents say, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Studies have proven that parents do know best.
Research has shown that children who regularly eat breakfast had better standardized test scores, better behavior, and were less hyperactive than children that skipped breakfast. Eating breakfast gives you energy, increasing your physical activity during the day. Eating breakfast reduces hunger, which makes it easier to avoid overeating and can help reduce obesity in our students.
Unfortunately, less than half the students eligible for school breakfast participate in this important program. When you skip breakfast, you are more likely to skip fruits and vegetables the rest of the day also. We need to change all of that.
We know our schoolchildren are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Just last week the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention released a report that found that less than 10 percent of U.S. high school students are eating the combined recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables.
We all know of the importance of eating healthy foods, including our fruits and vegetables, to the overall health of our children in the fight against obesity. The child nutrition meal programs can make a great impact because that may provide more than 50 percent of the student’s food and nutrition taken on a regular school day.
We know that change for adults is hard, but if we start to educate our children early enough we can establish lifelong habits and the values of healthy living and wellness for the future. By providing access to nutritious food like fruits and vegetables we have a wonderful opportunity to establish these positive lifelong habits.
And of course, we cannot reach eligible schoolchildren without adequate access to the programs themselves. To reduce administration wastes and improve the accuracy of the school meal eligibility determination progress the school meals programs use the process known as direct certification.
Under direct certification children are automatically enrolled for school meals based on data gathered by other means-tested programs. The 2004 reauthorization required all school districts, by the year 2008-2009 school year, to directly certify for free school meals children in households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, benefits. This means that instead of a parent having to fill out a form each year for a free or a reduced-price meal, they are automatically enrolled in the meal programs if they are already enrolled in SNAP.
Districts may also directly certify children in households receiving cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF, block grant or benefits under the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Nearly all states are complying with the requirement that they conduct direct certification, but not all of them are capturing all the students that they could.
If we are to ensure all eligible kids have access to these important meal programs, we need to improve our direct certification capabilities. The decisions we make during reauthorization are very important to a great number of children, and that was why we have assembled such a knowledgeable panel.
And I again thank you for being here.
We will hear testimony today about some terrific innovation practices which increase access to the programs and better food, but by taking a comprehensive approach to nutrition our children, families, and communities will all be healthier. I want to thank you for all being here, and I look forward to your testimony.