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ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) — Throughout the US March is a time to remember the importance of nutrition.

Rep. Mike McIntyre and USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon came to Bladen County to celebrate National Nutrition Month.

During their visit to Elizabeth Primary School, McIntyre and Concannon spoke to students and faculty about the importance of nutrition in public schools. They also discussed the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“If children at a young age can learn to eat healthier foods, they’re not only going to live healthier and more productive lives, but it’s going to ultimately save us cost in our whole health care system,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre and Concannon say it is important for public schools to take advantage of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

“We know that we have a great resource in agriculture right here in southeastern North Carolina with the peanuts and the strawberries and the blueberries and the many other crops that are grown,” McIntyre said. “It is a great way for the local farmers sell their product to the local school systems.”

Concanno said, “We’ve found from experience, if kids know the foods have come locally, and they’re likely to have some connection to it, they are more likely to eat it.”

Along with National Nutrition Month and School Breakfast Week, McIntyre and Concannon also came to support and celebrate a new law they say will help provide more nutritious meals to students. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will allow the USDA to make new reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs.

“It will bring more transparency and more information for parents on the quality, nutritional quality, the number of calories per meal that children eat,” Concannon said.

The law authorizes $4.5 billion in funding for child nutrition programs. It will also set new standards for all food offered in schools.

“There’s a greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables, a greater emphasis on local produce and local foods,” child nutrition consultant Anna Bristow said. “Also, more of a connection to where the food is coming from.”

In order for schools to meet the new nutrition requirements, the cost of school meals will go up by six cents. President Obama has said that money will come from funding for food stamp programs.

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