Arkansans children should not go to bed hungry, but unfortunately many do. Our state has the highest rate of food insecurity and nearly 28 percent of Arkansas children struggle with hunger.
Nutrition is important to the long-term development of children. Eliminating hunger and malnourishment is a national priority. The Senate Agriculture Committee is beginning the process of reauthorizing the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. As a member of the committee, I recently heard testimonies from industry leaders about areas where child nutrition programs have a broad impact and improvements that should be made.
One of the witnesses, Dr. Stephen Cook, M.D., PhD testified that, “about one in three American kids and teens are overweight or obese- nearly triple the rate in 1963.”
It’s clear that we need to make improvements to reverse these statistics. As a co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I understand the impact that America’s obesity epidemic has on our country and recognize that good nutrition is part of the answer.
I’m committed to being part of the solution to make sure children in Arkansas and all across America have access to adequate nutrition. One way we can accomplish this is through nutrition education like the Cooking Matters at the Store program offered by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. This program empowers families at risk of hunger with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals. Families learn to read food labels, compare unit prices, and add fruits, vegetables and whole grains to their diet, all on a budget.
Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides children from low-income families the opportunity for regular meals during the school year and the USDA Summer Food Service Program provides meals to hungry children during the summer months when school is out. Efforts to expand the summer meals program in Arkansas have been successful. Last summer nearly 300 meal sites were added, serving more than 1.6 million more meals than the summer of 2012. This was the largest increase for any state. However, there is still work to be done. Data from the Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign shows that less than 14 percent of children who participate in USDA funded meals during the school year participate in the summer meals program. Many families may be unaware the program exists or face barriers, such as transportation, that make it difficult for children to access summer meals sites, especially in rural areas.
To raise awareness of this program, I am proud to support a Senate resolution designating July as Summer Meals Awareness Month.
Hunger has no boundaries, but the good news is this is preventable and we are in a position to help. We have made significant contributions to improve nutrition and agriculture throughout our country, and I look forward to continuing these efforts. No child should have to think about when and where their next meal will come from and we’re working to achieve that goal.