WASHINGTON - Thousands of more children would eat lunches and dinners at school and all school food would become more nutritious under a bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Monday, part of an administration-wide effort to combat childhood obesity.
"At a very basic level, this act is about doing what's right for our children," Obama said before signing the bill at an elementary school here.
The measure also was a priority for his wife, Michelle Obama, who launched a national campaign this year against childhood obesity.
"We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams," the first lady said. "Because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing."
The $4.5-billion measure increases the federal reimbursement for free school lunches by 6 cents a meal at a time when many school officials say they can't afford to provide the meals.
The measure will also expand access to free lunch programs and allow 20 million additional after-school meals to be served annually in all 50 states.
The new law, which also was pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), aims to cut down on greasy foods and extra calories by giving the government the power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold on school grounds.
While the government has long had nutrition requirements for the free and reduced-cost meals it subsidizes, the bill would expand those requirements to cover all foods sold during school hours.
Bake sales and other fundraisers that don't meet the new nutritional requirements would be allowed during the school day as long as they are infrequent.