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Dems propose solution to child obesity: More federal spending

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, questions witnesses at the House Committee on Education and Workforce on college athletes forming unions, on May 8, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke) AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke

Five House Democrats want the government to spend millions of dollars each year in an effort to get America's overweight kids to shed some pounds.

The Fit For Life Act from Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) would create several new federal grants for programs that give children from low-income families have access to healthier foods and athletic programs. Fudge says the bill is needed because about one-third of all children in the county are overweight or obese, and that the government needs to intervene to help kids get in shape.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, has proposed legislation that sets up new federal grant programs to fight child obesity. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

"This country must break the cycle of childhood obesity," Fudge said when she introduced her bill late last week. "Unless we reverse course, this epidemic will continue to put more of our children and the future of our nation at risk."

Her legislation is similar to a bill she proposed in the last Congress, which would spend $50 million a year for four years on federal grants to develop sports programs that targets kids from low-income families. Her prior bill gave priority to programs aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency and "female empowerment," among other goals.

It would also spend a few million a year for healthy food grants, and create a National Commission on Child Obesity.

The bill was proposed at a time when Republicans are rebelling against Democratic attempts to use the power of the federal government to fight obesity. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed an agriculture spending bill that would let schools opt out of federal nutrition guidelines.

The GOP language is meant to help schools that have said the federal guidelines are too costly to implement. Over the last few years, some schools and students have complained that federal guidelines aren't getting enough food to some kids, and are leading to more waste as kids are dumping vegetables in the trash.

But the House language led First Lady Michelle Obama, who has championed those guidelines, to criticize the House bill as a step backwards.

"This is unacceptable," she said last week. "It's unacceptable to me not just as First Lady but also as a mother."

Obama's comments show Democrats are not willing to give up on the idea that the federal government has a role to play on the issue of getting kids to eat better and exercise.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have proposed the Fit Kids Act, which imagines federal grants totaling $250 million or more each year for programs promoting physical activity. That House bill is mostly sponsored by Democrats, but it's cosponsored by three Republicans.

Democratic efforts to fight child obesity are ramping up at the same time some are looking to expand subsidized food programs. In May, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) proposed a bill that would have the government subsidize kids' meals over the summer. Her bill is aimed at low-income kids who won't have access to subsidized school lunches once school is out.

Murray's bill pays for that expansion by ending a tax benefit used by companies with overseas operations. Similar language to subsidize food over the summer is also in Fudge's new legislation, although it doesn't include any offsetting tax hike.

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