WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill that will fight childhood hunger and bolster his wife’s project to roll back obesity in kids by making school meals healthier.
“Right now, across the country, too many children don’t have access to school meals and often the food that’s being offered isn’t as healthy as it should be,” Obama said at a signing ceremony for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act at an elementary school in Washington.
The new law would help reverse the worrying trend of doctors diagnosing what used to be considered adult conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes — in increasingly fatter American children, and would do so “without adding a dime to the deficit,” Obama said.
The new law, which pledges 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to child nutrition programs, will give thousands more US children access to school meals and allow the Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for food sold in schools, including in vending machines.
It comes at a time when 17 million US children live in households that have to sometimes skip meals to make ends meet, and one in three US kids is obese or overweight.
Childhood hunger and obesity were “two sides of the same coin,” Michelle Obama said at the signing ceremony.
“Both rob our children of the strength and stamina they need to succeed in school and in life, and that in turn robs our country of so much of their promise,” said the first lady, who in February launched an ambitious project called “Let’s Move,” which aims to roll back childhood obesity in a generation.
The rate of childhood obesity tripled between 1980-1999 in the United States, with experts blaming it on lack of exercise and a diet heavy in fat and sugar.
Experts have warned that the current generation of Americans may be the first to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents because of childhood obesity, which often continues into adulthood and leaves a person more susceptible to developing conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
A study released in September found that medical costs for obese children amount to 14.3 billion dollars annually.
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