By Kavitha Cardoza
The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture visited Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest D.C. to praise local leaders for passing legislation he says shows a "serious commitment" to combating childhood obesity. But it still isn’t clear how the program will be funded.
The Healthy Schools Act would mandate that students in D.C. public schools receive low calorie, nutritious meals, create farm-to-school programs and triple the amount of time students spend in physical exercise.
Nearly half of the children in D.C. are overweight or obese and Council Member Mary Cheh says this is a key part of tackling the problem.
"If you look at this as an investment, the return is fantastic, that’s just in terms of money," she says. "But in terms of well-being, people will be healthier. When you are plagued with diseases, life is a struggle."
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called D.C.’s Healthy Schools Act "a good example of what the entire nation should be considering."
But implementing the law is expected to cost approximately $6.5 million a year, and it isn’t clear yet how it will be funded. Cheh has proposed a 1 cent an ounce tax on sodas, which has been vigorously opposed by several local businesses and soda companies.
Vilsack wouldn’t say whether he thought taxing sugary drinks was the way to fund the initiative.
"The issue of a tax on soda is a local issue and the people of the locale should make that decision for themselves," he says.
But he says the federal government wants to partner with local school districts. The Obama Administration is asking Congress for $10 billion over the next 10 years to support such programs.
A slate of new legislation has received an endorsement by the Virginia State Crime Commission that they say would give law enforcement more tools to investigate and prosecute child abuse.