03.18.17

Free meals on the budget chopping block

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President Trump’s budget blueprint slashes several social programs, including eliminating the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, which provides after school care to students of high-poverty and low-performing schools including snacks and meals, and cuts to funding for meals on wheels. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended the cuts to after school programs: “They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.” This blog argues that this charge runs contrary to the results of the program, and that investing in nutrition is economically and socially sound policy making.

The State of the Nation
Mulvaney’s utilitarian statement is amiss in a nation facing obesity and malnutrition side by side. One in three adults are thought to have obesity, including 1 in 2 adults experiencing extreme obesity. Further, 1 in 6 children aged 6-19 have obesity. Obesity is not merely an individual concern, but affects the society at large; in 2008 the medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion. This does not include indirect costs of an estimated $3.38 billion. At the same time, in 2015 it was estimated that 12.7 % of households were food insecure, i.e. had difficulty at some time during the year providing sufficient food due to resources. While these numbers have declined in recent years, cuts to social programs may reverse this trend.

Results of Afterschool Programs
Further, the attack on after school programs runs contrary to available evidence. The 2013-14 performance report of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program demonstrates that 2.2 million children were served by the program, with 36.5% reporting improved math grades and 36.8% reporting better English grades. Teachers were also pleased with the program, with almost half reporting improvement in homework completion. Further, Mr Mulvaney’s charge is at odds with existing evidence that shows that a clear connection between students’ diets and school success.

The Societal Impact of Meals on Wheels
Meals on wheels provides meals to 2.4 million American senior citizens, including 500,000 veterans. While it not primarily dependent on federal funding (it mostly relies on individual contributions), these, and expected future cuts, are likely to have an impact on local service provision. As to the results of the program, reviews have found that meals on wheels improves recipients’ diets and increases food intake. The program can help avoid costly heath care bills and lower rates of nursing home care. Finally, meals on wheels can, in some cases, provide needed social contact.
These are just some of the proposed cuts that will harm vulnerable families if implemented. For now, the proposals run contrary to the nutritional deficiencies facing millions of Americans. Indeed, although President Trump seeks to beef up military, he may struggle to recruit in a nation facing diet-related disease. However, we won’t know the full specifics until the budget is finalized.

Posted in Health reform, Non-communicable diseases ;

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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