Fox News promoted a false attack on a federal program that expands access to free school meals by dismissing child hunger and claiming that the program will harm low-income families. But studies have shown the school meals program helps alleviate the high levels of hunger that exist among low-income children, improves their access to key nutrients, and increases academic performance.
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USDA Expands Access To Free Lunch Program
USDA Announced "Universal Free Meal Service Option Designed To Make It Easier For Low-Income Children To Receive Meals." As the United States Department of Agriculture explained, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 established "community eligibility," which allows schools in high-poverty areas to provide free breakfasts and lunch to all students, and which will be an option available to all states beginning in the 2014/2015 school year:
USDA announced today that ten states were selected as finalists to participate in a pilot program for an innovative universal free meal service option designed to make it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The Community Eligibility Option will allow schools in high-poverty areas to provide free breakfasts and lunch to all students, using preexisting data to determine the eligibility of kids to receive free nutrition assistance. The determination is based on the percentage of households in that community who are already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamp Program. By streamlining the eligibility and enrollment process, no additional application is required to provide much need nutrition assistance to children in need.
"Community eligibility offers innovative strategies to help ensure that children in high-poverty areas have access to the nutrition they need to learn and thrive," said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. "We know that if our country is going to win the future, our kids must be healthy and ready to learn so that they can reach their full potential."
The Community Eligibility Option is among the early reforms enacted as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama on December 13, 2010. The Act authorizes USDA to select up to three states to test the option in School Year 2011-12. The option will be offered to more states in successive years, and will be available to all states beginning School Year 2014-15. [United States Department of Agriculture, 3/24/11]
Fox Promotes False Attack On Program
Fox News' Elisabeth Hasselbeck Promotes Attack On Program Expanding Access To School Meals. On Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck provided a platform for guest Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute to attack the new school meal pilot program in Florida. Pullman ignored the nutritional benefits the program brings to areas of high poverty, instead falsely claiming that expanding access to free meals in Florida will increase childhood obesity and harm low-income families:
PULLMAN: The problem we have ... [with] poor children right now is obesity, and not the fact that they're not getting enough calories. So the federal school lunch program, the reason that it exists is actually a collusion between big agribusiness and big government, and what it ends up doing is raising food prices for the poor and middle class, it makes kids more fat, and it also has the effect of making families -- depriving them of their ability and the privilege and joy of providing for their own children.
What essentially this program is doing given the fiscal state of our country is, maxing out our kids' credit cards in order to give them more calories that they probably don't need and reduce their family's input into the kind of meals that they're having. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/23/13]
School Meals Meet Nutritional Standards And Increase Positive Health Outcomes
USDA: School Meals "Must Meet Meal Pattern And Nutrition Standards." According to United States Department of Agriculture's fact sheet on the National School Lunch Program, all school meals must meet nutritional standards, and current plans set specific calorie limits:
School lunchs [sic] must meet meal pattern and nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The current meal pattern increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the school menu. The meal pattern's dietary specifications set specific calorie limits to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Other meal enhancements include gradual reductions in the sodium content of the meals (sodium targets must be reached by SY 2014-15, SY 2017-18 and SY 2022-23). While school lunches must meet Federal meal requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities. [United States Department of Agriculture, September 2013]
CBPP: Research Shows "School Meal Programs Increase Children's Intake Of Key Nutrients." According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), research shows that "school meals programs increase children's intake of key nutrients," and one study revealed that girls from food-insecure households "who participated in the school lunch program were 71 percent less likely to be at risk of becoming overweight than girls who did not participate in the program":
[S]chool meal programs increase children's intake of key nutrients. There is considerable evidence that WIC and the school meals programs increase children's intake of key nutrients and have other significant benefits.
- The research also indicates that children who participate in the school lunch program consume more protein, vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and fiber at lunch -- and less added sugar -- than children who do not eat school lunches. Past studies also found that lunches consumed by participants provided more fat and saturated fat than other lunches. In response, USDA has implemented a national initiative to improve the nutritional quality of school meals to address this problem. More schools now offer meals that are lower in fat and sodium while still offering recommended amounts of the key nutrients.
- One recent study found that among girls in "food-insecure" households, those who participated in the school lunch program were 71 percent less likely to be at risk of becoming overweight than girls who did not participate in the program. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/17/05, emphasis added]
Expanded School Meals Program Helps Families In High Poverty Areas
National Conference Of State Legislatures: Expanded School Meals Programs Targets "High Poverty Areas." The National Conference of State Legislatures explained that community eligibility in the School Lunch and Breakfast programs was achieved through offering meals to all students "in high poverty areas that have 40 percent or more of students directly certified for free school meals":
Community eligibility in the School Lunch and Breakfast programs is accomplished through universal meal service in high poverty areas that have 40 percent or more of students directly certified for free school meals. Children in these schools do not need to complete paper applications to participate in the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Finally, the legislation instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to establish performance benchmarks for direct certification. P.L. 111-296 provides $4 million in bonuses per year for states that show improvement based on the benchmarks set by the Secretary. [National Conference of State Legislatures, 3/24/11]
CBPP: Community Eligibility Makes "It Easier For Low-Income Children In High-Poverty Schools To Get Free Meals." The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that the program makes it "easier for low-income children in high-poverty schools to get free meals":
"Community eligibility" is a powerful new tool that's making it easier for low-income children in high-poverty schools to get free meals. Established in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the option allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge. Community eligibility schools have less paperwork to complete, which frees up resources to invest in improving meal quality and increases staff time for other educational priorities.
Access to free, healthy meals at school can reduce food insecurity for the nearly 16 million children living in households that have trouble affording enough nutritious food. In the first seven states that implemented community eligibility, more than 2,200 schools chose the option, resulting in nearly 1 million children attending a community eligibility school. Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, all school districts nationwide that meet the criteria will be able to participate.
Community eligibility is making a profound difference for students and schools. In Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan, where school districts first implemented the option for the 2011-2012 school year, there was a striking increase in the number of students eating school breakfast and lunch. In schools that have been participating in community eligibility for two years, average daily lunch participation has risen by 13 percent. Average daily breakfast participation has increased by 25 percent. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/1/13]
Food Insecurity Affects Millions Of Children
USDA: Children Were Food Insecure In 3.9 Million U.S. Households In 2012. According to the most recent data from the USDA, "An estimated 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members." A report showed that of households with children, 10 percent experienced food insecurity in 2012 alone:
Children were food insecure at times during the year in 10.0 percent of households with children. These 3.9 million households were unable at times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. [United States Department of Agriculture, 9/5/13]
Feeding America: In 2012, 15.9 Million Children Lived In Food Insecure Households. According to Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief charity, "households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children," and in 2012 15.9 million children lived with food insecurity:
In 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.
In 2012, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.0 percent compared to 11.9 percent.
In 2012, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.0 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (35.4 percent) or single men (23.6 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.6 percent) and Hispanic households (23.3 percent) [Feeding America, accessed 10/23/13]
U.S. Conference Of Mayors: Hunger Is On The Rise In Many U.S. Cities. In December 2012, Reuters reported on a U.S. Conference of Mayors report that found that "[a]cross the United States, the number of hungry and homeless people is growing," with requests for emergency food assistance rising "in 21 out of the 25 cities it surveyed in 2012." Furthermore, among "those seeking emergency food, 51 percent were in families and 37 percent were employed." [Reuters, 12/20/12]
Child Food Insecurity Harms Academic Achievement
Michigan State University: Research Shows Child Food Insecurity Is "Associated With Significantly Poorer Cognitive Functioning ... Diminished Academic Achievement." According to research highlighted by Michigan State University, child food insecurity is "associated with significantly poorer cognitive functioning, decreased school attendance, or diminished academic achievement." [Michigan State University, 2/23/13]
National Education Association: Studies Show "Missing Meals And Experiencing Hunger Impair Children's Development And Achievement." The National Education Association cited scientific studies which found that hunger can have a negative effect on a child's academic performance:
Missing meals and experiencing hunger impair children's development and achievement. Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry document the negative effects of hunger on children's academic performance and behavior in school. Hungry children have lower math scores. They are also are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely. [National Education Association, accessed 10/23/13]