Children’s HealthWatch Submits Written Testimony to the MA Joint Committee on Education

On January 4, 2022, Children’s HealthWatch submitted testimony to Chairman Lewis, Chairwoman Peisch, and distinguished members of the Joint Committee on Education in strong support of H.714/S.314: An Act relative to universal school meals. As a nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers, and children’s health and policy experts committed to improving children’s health in America, we understand the harmful health and economic consequences of food insecurity and diet-related illness. Our research demonstrates that children and their families need access to healthy food throughout their lifetime in order to thrive. Currently, the state has an opportunity to ensure that all children have access to nutritious food while in school. This will benefit the health and development of children, enable them to better focus and learn in school, and decrease food insecurity for entire households.

The mission of Children’s HealthWatch is to improve the health and development of young children by informing policies that address and alleviate economic hardships. We accomplish this mission by interviewing caregivers of young children on the frontlines of pediatric care, in urban emergency departments and primary care clinics in five cities: Boston, Minneapolis, Little Rock, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Our headquarters are located at Boston Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Since 1998, we have interviewed over 75,000 caregivers of children under four years of age, and analyzed those interviews to determine the impact of public policies on the health and development of young children. Based on our extensive research, we understand the harms of food insecurity that families face, and thus write today in strong support of H.714/S.314, which would address and mitigate circumstances that may threaten families’ ability to access food necessary for their health and well- being.

Consistent access to nutritious foods is essential for the health and development of children. Child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP), are key vehicles for delivering nutritious food to children, particularly those from families with low incomes that may struggle to otherwise afford healthy food. Research shows that the NSLP and SBP are associated with numerous benefits for children including improved test scores, lower rates of absences and tardiness, improved dietary intake, and lower risk of obesity.

While the research of Children’s HealthWatch focuses on young children not yet in school, we know that infants and toddlers live within the context of families, many of whom have older siblings. The NSLP and SBP not only ensure that school-age children eat a nutritious breakfast and lunch, they also have a positive effect on families. These programs alleviate pressure on often-constrained family food budgets; saving money on up to 10 meals each week during the school year for their children, parents are enabled are able to better afford meals at home and on the weekends. This means, and research has shown, that the NSLP and SBP are effective in reducing household food insecurity.