President signs bill aiding child nutrition
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WASHINGTON -- Thousands more children would eat lunches and dinners at school, and all school food would become more nutritious, under a bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Monday, part of an administration-wide effort to combat childhood obesity.
"At a very basic level, this act is about doing what's right for our children," Mr. Obama said before signing the bill.
The ceremony was moved from the White House, where most signings are held, to a District of Columbia elementary school to underscore the point.
Besides Mr. Obama, the bill also was a priority for his wife, Michelle, who launched a national campaign this year against childhood obesity.
"We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams," said Mrs. Obama. "Because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing,"
The $4.5 billion measure increases the federal reimbursement for free school lunches by 6 cents a meal at a time when many school officials say they can't afford to provide the meals.
The bill will also expand access to free lunch programs and allow 20 million additional after-school meals to be served annually in all 50 states. Most states now only provide money for after-school snacks.
The new law aims to cut down on greasy foods and extra calories by giving the government power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold on school grounds, including in vending machines and at fundraisers.
While the government has long had nutrition requirements for the free and reduced cost meals it subsidizes, the bill would expand those requirements to cover all foods sold during school hours. It does not apply to after-school events.
Bake sales and other fundraisers that don't meet the new nutritional requirements would be allowed during the school day as long as they are infrequent. The language in the bill is broad enough that a president's administration could even ban bake sales, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that he does not intend to do that.
Many Republicans, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have criticized the effort, and the fundraiser limits in particular, saying the bill is too expensive and is an example of government overreach.
First Published December 14, 2010 12:22 am