The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), the law that overhauled school meals, is now considered “one of the most important national obesity prevention policy achievements in recent decades,” according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But its passage back in 2010 was hardly a cake-walk.
Instead, this public health victory represents over 20 years of dedicated advocacy by local, state and national groups—and there was no shortage of drama in the process. There was discord between anti-hunger and public health groups, fierce industry opposition, and other disappointing setbacks. But there was also remarkable coalition-building, as well as inspiring local victories that were used as models for national reform.
All of this history is now presented in a fascinating behind-the-scenes account, soon to be published in the journal Nutrition Today. The case study was prepared by Colin Schwartz and Margo Wootan at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization which itself played an instrumental role in the law’s passage, and their account draws from in-depth interviews with over 20 key stakeholders, including members of Congress, USDA staffers, Bush and Obama administration officials, and public health advocates. They also reviewed legislative and regulatory history, peer-reviewed research, and advocates’ files.
Why is so important to take stock of how the HHFKA became law?
First, the story is a powerful teaching tool for advocates, researchers, and academics—aided by Schwartz and Wootan’s creation of useful charts that offer key takeaways and best practices. But just as importantly, we need to remember that the gains of the HHFKA remain vulnerable, having already been rolled-back once by the Trump administration. ‘‘You think that you passed this bill and you’re done,” says one advocate quoted in the report. “You can retire and achieve what you wanted to achieve. But the next 5 years are almost harder than the previous 10 in fighting back and in implementation.’’
For those interested in learning more, Schwartz and Wootan will be presenting their findings in a webinar on Friday, February 22, from 11-11:45am EST. You can RSVP here.
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♥♥♥ And look for my new book Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World—out this fall from Oxford University Press!♥♥♥