No one should go hungry in America, and certainly no child should go hungry, especially at the holidays.
Kids who have access to proper nutrition and develop healthy habits at an early age have a competitive advantage in the classroom and later in life. Without easy access to healthy food, kids have a harder time growing up healthy, strong, and ready for the workforce.
That’s why nutrition safety net programs like SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and school meals are so vital and need to be protected.
WIC, in particular, represents a huge opportunity to start low-income children on equal nutritional footing with their peers. The program serves more than half of all babies born in the United States, and WIC participants, like SNAP participants, come from some of our nation’s poorest households.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working hard to ensure that these programs do the best possible job of providing access to a wide variety of healthy food options, and reinforcing consistent, comprehensive messages about the importance of proper nutrition. These are lessons that recipients carry with them long after their need has ceased.
The USDA has evidence that these efforts are working. The Department recently released a new report that showcases the exceptional progress it’s making in WIC health outcomes. More WIC moms are breastfeeding, which provides health benefits to both mothers and children. That, combined with the updated WIC food package that now provides more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to mothers and young children, has led to a series of recent reports crediting WIC for declining obesity rates among low-income children for the first time since the 1980s.
At the same time, the USDA is examining how SNAP can better support low-income moms and dads as they use benefits to put healthy food on the table for the whole family.
A recently-released USDA study on nutrition education in SNAP shows that something as seemingly simple as a well-designed nutrition education program can provide the impetus for SNAP participants, particularly parents and children, to choose healthier foods.
But it doesn’t stop there. The USDA is testing the impact of providing incentives to encourage SNAP recipients to purchase more fruits and vegetables. The Department is making it easier for farmers markets and farm stands to accept SNAP and WIC. Looking forward into 2014, the USDA will continue to explore requiring all SNAP stores to carry more and a wider variety of healthy foods.
The fact is that there is no silver bullet that can solve the twin crises of hunger and obesity that plagues this country, but the USDA continues to seek out and support strategies that can meet the challenge.
The one approach that will absolutely not work is to indiscriminately cut off millions of poor American children and families from critical nutrition assistance.
SNAP does more than just provide food. It provides a wider variety of healthier foods to families that have few resources to devote to grocery shopping and meals. It reinforces consistent, comprehensive messages about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. And it makes a real and perceptible difference in the lives of young children and their families, and ensures a brighter, healthier future for the entire country.
Congress has the power to protect American children from hunger through the Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill. Congress can and should act now to pass a comprehensive, multiyear bill that ensures healthy food for those who need it, when they need it this holiday season and all year long.