HARRISBURG – Wolf Administration officials and Central Pennsylvania Food Bank Executive Director Joe Arthur on Thursday discussed the importance of proper nutrition, especially among school-aged children, and offered healthy tips to parents and students who are preparing for the new school year.
“We want to make sure students have everything they need to succeed in their education, and that includes access to healthy, nutritious foods,” Secretary of Health Dr. Levine said.
“Students who eat healthy foods get better grades, and students who get better grades are known to make healthier food choices.
“Good nutrition is essential for the healthy development and growth in children and adolescents, and we will continue to work with our sister agencies and local organizations to provide education on and access to healthy foods.”
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people aged 2 or older follow a healthy eating pattern that includes:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables;
- Whole grains;
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy products;
- A variety of protein foods; and
The department’s WIC program in Pennsylvania provides services at more than 260 locations and serves more than 205,000 pregnant women, infants and children under age 5.
For more than 45 years, WIC has offered participant-centered nutrition education, healthy food and breastfeeding support to eligible Pennsylvanians.
In addition, the program also serves as a gateway for preventive health, and is considered one of the most successful, cost-effective and important nutrition intervention programs in the country
While it is essential that all Pennsylvanians eat the proper foods, some residents do not always have access to healthy food. More than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians and nearly 20 percent of children across the commonwealth experience food insecurity every day.
Not having enough to eat can have profound effects on a child’s physical health, cognitive development and performance in school.
SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program providing critical benefits to 1.85 million Pennsylvanians, including children, older adults and individuals with disabilities. This support helps recipients purchase food from local grocery stores and farmers markets.
On average, children whose families utilize SNAP are healthier than kids whose families qualify for SNAP but are not enrolled in the program. These kids go on to have higher graduation rates, increased adult earnings and improved health outcomes in their adult life.
“Children need healthy meals every day to ensure they have a chance at a bright future and lead healthier, more productive lives,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller.
“SNAP, along with the support from local charitable food organizations, make it possible for families and individuals who struggle to afford groceries have food on their tables.
“We are proud to work closely with our community partners in their efforts to fill the hunger gaps and educate individuals in their community about proper nutrition necessary.”
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally-assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions.
The NSLP serves nutritious meals to more than 29.6 million children nationwide. Pennsylvania served more than 168 million school lunches during the 2018-19 school year.
Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level, and children in families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and SNAP are eligible for free lunches.
Children in families whose income is between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price lunches. These accessible and healthy meals enhance children’s readiness to learn.
“One in six children in Central Pennsylvania are at risk of hunger,” said Joe Arthur, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank executive director.
“This is an unacceptable number. A child’s chance for a brighter tomorrow starts with getting enough healthy food to eat today. Through the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s youth programs, we give our children and youth consistent access to enough nutritious food to excel.”
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s youth programs include School Pantries and BackPacks that send students home from school with food for themselves and their families, and the Kids Café and Summer Feeding Programs that provide nutritious meals, healthy snacks, and nutrition education when school is not in session.
Last year the Food Bank sent home 580,000 BackPacks with children at 112 sites in 25 counties.
The Food Bank also operates a Food Stamps Helpline to provide assistance in applying for SNAP to help eligible individuals and families purchase food. Parents can call 1-877-999-5964 to find out if they qualify for SNAP and get help enrolling.
Pennsylvanians can also apply for SNAP and free or reduced-price school lunches online through the Department of Human Services’ COMPASS application at www.dhs.pa.gov or on your smartphone with the myCOMPASS PA app.