Murkowski, Harkin Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Children's Health

Legislation Will Update Decades-Old Nutrition Standards In Schools

Washington, D.C. – Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced legislation that would improve student health by updating decades-old nutrition standards in schools.  This bill seeks to establish appropriate school nutrition standards for foods and beverages offered in school vending machines, stores, a la carte lines and other venues outside of the school meal programs.
Currently, more than $11 billion in federal money is invested annually in student health though the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.  However, the USDA has little authority over what can be sold to students outside of these programs.  Because of this, students have ready access to food and drinks that are high in calories, fats and sodium, thus undermining the intention of providing healthy meals for students.  The legislation introduced today will improve the health of America’s children by allowing the Secretary of Agriculture, through established notice and comment procedures, to establish common-sense nutrition standards for the foods and beverages that are sold in school vending machines and similar outlets.

“Poor diet and physical inactivity are contributing to growing rates of chronic disease in the U.S.  Research suggests that one-third of American children born today will develop type II diabetes at some point and at the same time, rates of obesity among children are skyrocketing.  We must take preventative action now,” said Harkin.  “Our legislation requires common-sense nutrition standards for the foods and beverages that are sold in school vending machines and similar outlets.  Absent this action, sugary snacks and sweetened beverages will continue to undermine the $11 billion that taxpayers provide annually to reimburse schools for provided nutritious meals.”
“In these tough economic times, it is more important than ever that we find ways to reduce our rapidly rising health care costs.  I believe we must look at prevention first.  In that regard, one of the most important things we can do is to treat the youth obesity epidemic,” said Murkowski.  “I am pleased with the positive steps that many school districts have taken, and the voluntary action by the snack and beverage industry to improve school nutrition.  I hope Congress will take the next step by passing this legislation to allow the Secretary to update the nutritional guidelines for foods and beverages sold outside of the regular meal programs.” 
“Allowing unhealthy foods and beverages on our school campuses undermines the healthy eating habits which we are trying to instill in our children and youth.  At the same time, they undermine both the federal investment in healthy school meals and every parent’s trust that their child’s health will be respected and protected throughout the school day.  For these and many other reasons, the National Parent Teacher Association fully endorses the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act and urges Congress to act swiftly to enact this common sense legislation,” said Jan Harp Domene, President of the National Parent Teacher Association.
“Schools are one of the key settings where we can help children by creating environments for good nutrition and good health.  As Congress and the Administration move forward with health reform this year, the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act is a solid rock in the foundation of prevention efforts.  By getting nutrition ‘right’ in the schools, we go a long way in improving the outlook for the nation’s health. Nutrition is the cornerstone of disease prevention strategies,” said Martin M. Yadrick, registered dietitian and president of the American Dietetic Association.
“The promotion of healthy eating should not stop at the cafeteria doors as healthy eating should be reinforced and modeled throughout the whole school environment.  The American Academy of Pediatrics appreciates your commitment to reversing the obesity trend and promoting good health for all U.S. children.  We are pleased to support this legislation and look forward to its successful passage,” said David T. Tayloe Jr., President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“With childhood obesity rates spiraling across the country, future generations could potentially face a life of disability or premature death from cardiovascular disease if nothing is done to stem this epidemic,” said Timothy J. Gardner, M.D., American Heart Association President.  “The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act will make a significant impact on current school nutrition standards by eliminating the unhealthy foods and drinks that are currently fueling the obesity crisis.”
"Despite pockets of progress in some states and school systems, most schools make junk food readily available to children.  But junk food in schools helps fuel an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in children. And, it undercuts the considerable federal investment we make in the healthy school lunch program," said Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan.  "Some states and localities have acted on their own to improve school food, but still the majority of drinks and snacks sold in schools are of poor nutritional quality and two-thirds of states have weak or no policies on school nutrition."

Harkin and Murkowski have offered similar versions of the legislation in prior years.  Later this year, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will undertake a periodic reauthorization of the federal food assistance programs.  These programs include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.