Efforts toward addressing the simultaneous problems of child obesity rates and child hunger in the United States recently made landmark progress. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a child nutrition bill that will overhaul school lunch programs. The bill, which was lobbied for by First Lady Michelle Obama, will help schools expand free lunch programs and impose stricter regulations on nutritional standards. The bill will now go to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. This bill should be the beginning of an increased effort to teach children healthy eating habits. Most importantly, it should ensure that all children have a lunch.

After passing unanimously in the U.S. Senate in August, the House of Representatives gave approval on Dec. 2 to a $4.5-billion child nutrition bill to subsidize healthier school lunches. Half of the bill will be funded through significant cuts to the current food stamp program that will take effect in a few years. The bill aims to feed more children and put healthier foods in schools. Schools will receive greater subsidies for free lunches for children from low-income households. The bill will also increase fruits and vegetables in schools and includes regulations on what can be served in vending machines.

The emphasis on healthy eating is a crucial aspect of this program. Having more fruits and vegetables in meals and fewer empty-calorie, processed foods available will hopefully put a dent in child obesity rates. About 17 percent of children are obese, according to a 2007-2008 study from the Centers for Disease Control. And hopefully, introducing students to healthy choices will encourage them to continue healthy eating habits when they are adults, helping to decrease the number of obese Americans — which currently sits at about 34 percent, according to the CDC report.

Not only does the bill make school lunches healthier, it also makes them more widely available. The program also automatically qualifies children on Medicaid for the program, increasing the number of children who receive free lunch. By offering schools greater subsidies for free lunches, more students who may have previously gone without will have lunch.

But this program shouldn’t come at the expense of other people who receive government aid for food: the cuts to funding for food stamps were a serious concern to House Democrats who ultimately supported the bill. But since there’s still time to alter the bill before cuts take effect and the approaching Republican takeover of the House, it was a sacrifice they had to make. But it shouldn’t become permanent. Congressional Democrats should work with the Obama administration to protect funding for food stamps and also provide students with healthy lunches.

Curbing childhood obesity and malnutrition rates has the potential to dramatically change the lives of a generation of young Americans. Obama needs to sign the child nutrition bill to begin establishing a healthy lifestyle for children in public schools — but he and Congressional Democrats shouldn’t let other struggling families down to fund the program.

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