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School meals matter. Just ask any teacher or parent and they’ll tell you that children who lack proper nutrition have trouble focusing in school. Medical authorities and nutrition researchers have documented that youngsters who eat nutritious meals every day and lead active lifestyles tend to excel. More importantly, our schools are on the frontline of efforts to improve childhood nutrition, our collective health, and the future of our great nation. Improving the meals that our kids eat in schools is an important step to achieve that goal.

As secretary of agriculture, I oversee the federal government’s school nutrition programs, and these programs are uniquely positioned to lead the way to improve poor diets, promote physical activity, and advance the nutritional education of America’s children. The commitment of the Obama administration to these issues is very real, as evidenced by the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to solve childhood obesity within a generation. The Let’s Move campaign will combat the epidemic of childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that builds on effective strategies, and mobilizes public and private sector resources. And now the First Lady is using the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act as the legislative centerpiece to improve the overall nutrition of school meals.

The importance of school meals is underscored by the current state of the health and nutrition of our nation’s children. Obesity is our fastest-growing public health issue with roughly 1 out of 3 children overweight or obese. The lack of access to proper nutrition is also leading to food insecurity and hunger among our children. A recent USDA report showed that in 2008, an estimated 16.7 million children lived in households that experienced hunger multiple times throughout the year. Meanwhile, school-age children are not eating the recommended levels of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, according to a 2009 Institute of Medicine report.

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