Hunger is real for far too many Ohioans. Today, almost one in six families doesn’t know where its next meal will come from.
This has particularly devastating consequences for our children. Study after study indicates that access to healthy, nutritious foods is critical to our children’s health and ability to learn.
And the effects of poor nutrition reach beyond the boundaries of hunger—they also fuel childhood obesity, which plagues communities across our nation.
We all share a responsibility to end hunger among Ohio children, and that’s why it’s critical that we reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act this year.
This legislation helps ensure that children have access to the healthy, nutritious meals during the school year and during the summer. It includes funding for the Farm to School program, which provides fresh produce to local schools, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which works to encourage healthy eating.
This year we have a chance to make these programs stronger and more effective.
When I was in high school, the vending machines sold apples for a dime, not candy bars for a dollar. Yet today, in too many schools, a child can be served a hot dog, a bag of potato chips, and a sugary drink, and somehow that constitutes an acceptable, nutritious meal.
Five years ago we worked to modernize nutritional standards and curb the sale of junk foods at schools, but there is still more we can do. We need to strengthen school nutrition standards to make sure all students, no matter their school, are eating healthier meals. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics studied the FFVP and found that it led to students eating 15 percent more fruits and vegetables. This is particularly important for schools in low-income areas, which too often don’t have access to enough fresh produce.
We also need to protect and strengthen the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which provides nutritious meals to Ohio’s children when school cafeterias close for the summer. Last year, dedicated volunteers at churches and synagogues, community centers, and summer camps served more than 3.8 million meals in Ohio.
I’ve traveled to summer feeding sites across our state, meeting with the dedicated volunteers and the children they serve. Last week I visited the Boys and Girls Club’s site at Franklin D. Roosevelt Academy in Cleveland with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
We will work to improve the summer programs to support site sponsors and volunteers like those we met at the Boys and Girls Club, and to ensure that we are reaching the children that need this program the most.
All children, no matter where they grow up, deserve nutritious meals that allow them to grow into healthy adults.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.