WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The U.S. Congress needs to quickly reauthorize legislation providing healthy nutritious meals in U.S. schools that reduce hunger, improve learning and contribute to a lowering incidence of childhood obesity, said Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture.

In keynote remarks made Sept. 1 at the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan policy institute, Vilsack urged Congress not to delay in renewing passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, in place since 2010 and notable for establishing higher health and nutritional standards for food served in public schools, including school lunch and breakfast programs and afterschool meal programs, among other food-security initiatives affecting children.

“Seventy-six percent of America’s teachers report that children come to school hungry,” Vilsack said. “I know that I don’t perform well when I’m hungry, and the reality is, neither do children. If we are going to expect our children to be at their best in terms of educational achievement, we have to make sure they’re well-fed at schools.”

Vilsack was enthusiastic in his support of the school food program that included significant changes in nutritional standards for the first time in a generation.

“Bottom line is that the standards are being embraced,” he said. “They are making a difference. And given an opportunity to work over a long period of time, they will result in healthier youngsters, better achievement in school, a stronger economy, and more young people to draw from for public service, military, and other opportunities that national service can provide.”

He said 95% of schools were certified under the new standards. Seventy-two percent of parents supported the new standards and 70% of elementary school students and nearly 60% of high school students indicating acceptance of the standards, which he said meant more consumption of fruits and vegetables in meals at school.