November 10, 2016
The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) does not live up to its name, say two researchers from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In an editorial published online Nov. 10 by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), a doctoral student and a faculty member outlined the reasons they are urging others to oppose this legislation.
Co-author Christina Anna Chauvenet, MSc, MSPH, is a doctoral student of maternal and child health who also is pursuing a minor in health behavior at the Gillings School. She is a Royster Fellow and serves as a member of the UNC Food for All Steering Committee, which leads the 2015-2017 university-wide academic theme. Co-author Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, is a research assistant professor of nutrition at UNC Gillings and a faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center.
In their editorial, Chauvenet and Taillie called for readers to join the American Public Health Association and more than 750 other public health organizations in opposing H.R. 5003.
Taillie offered an overview of the possible effects of the act: “This legislation would threaten food security for nutrition assistance recipients, decrease the healthfulness of school meals, and could further increase health disparities between children from low- and high-income backgrounds.”
In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), which was implemented in United States schools in the 2012-2013 academic year. In addition to providing funding for school meal programs, HHFKA updated nutritional requirements. H.R. 5003 is the House version of renewal legislation for HHFKA, but it would add new provisions.
Where HHFKA aimed to improve school nutrition standards by requiring one serving of fruits or vegetables in addition to the presence of whole grains and lower sodium content in school meals, H.R. 5003 questions the scientific basis for these changes. Additionally, although 98.5 percent of schools currently meet nutrition standards, the proposed legislation contends that many schools struggle to do so.
H.R. 5003 also would change how schools support free and reduced lunch programs for low-income children. A proposed pilot “block grant” would give schools a fixed dollar amount for providing meals, rather than a reimbursement per child. This means that if the need for free and reduced lunches rose, schools would not be obligated (and might not be able) to provide meals to low-income children once the grant money had run out. In addition, the new act proposes a significant change to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).
“CEP takes the burden off schools because, when they reach a certain threshold of low-income students, they stop having to individually identify children who need free/reduced lunches and simply receive funding to serve a free shared meal to all students at the same time,” explained Chauvenet. “H.R. 5003 would raise the eligibility threshold for low-income students from 40 to 60 percent of a school’s total population, meaning 7,000 schools would no longer be able to offer this service to 3.4 million students.”
“Two key concerns here,” Chauvenet added, “are the return to a stigmatization of students who must seek free/reduced meals, and the approximately 20 percent of students who live with food insecurity but are financially ineligible for free/reduced meals.”
In order to prevent increased health disparities between children from high- and low-income families in both nutrition quality and food security, Chauvenet and Taillie urged readers to contact their members of Congress and oppose H.R. 5003.