Securing Our Future Through Our Children's Health

The president has identified three key strategies to build a lasting prosperity: innovation, investment, and education. All three strategies require the next generation to be healthy.
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Our country faces many challenges as we look to the future. In his first year in office, President Obama pulled us back from the brink of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and worked to lay a new foundation for economic growth. The president identified three key strategies to build that lasting prosperity: innovation, investment, and education. All three strategies require the next generation, our children and grandchildren, to be the healthiest and best educated in our history.

And so the health of our nation -- of our economy, our national security, and our communities -- depends on the health of our children. We will not succeed if of our children aren't learning as they should because they are hungry, and cannot achieve because they aren't healthy.

The rise of childhood obesity has placed the health of an entire generation at risk. This week, I announced the Obama administration's priorities for the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act. The president and I are advocating for the rapid passage of a strong re-authorization bill to improve the health and nutrition of our nation's children.

The lack of access to proper nutrition is not only fueling obesity, it is leading to food insecurity and hunger among our children. A recent USDA report showed that in 2008, an estimated 49.1 million people, including 16.7 million children, lived in households that experienced hunger multiple times throughout the year. Meanwhile, school-age children are not eating the recommended level of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products according to a 2009 Institute of Medicine report.

Clearly, we can and must do better.

To achieve our goals, the administration has proposed a historic investment of an additional $10 billion over ten years starting in 2011. This investment will allow us to improve the quality of our School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, increase the number of kids participating, and ensure that schools have the resources they need to make program changes, including training for school food service workers, upgraded kitchen equipment, and additional funding for meal reimbursements for schools that are enhancing nutrition and quality.

Most importantly, this investment will allow additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products to be served in our school cafeterias and an additional one million students to be served the healthy diets that will allow them to succeed in school.

But it is not enough to serve healthy and nutritious meals in the lunchroom. Proper school nutrition must be complemented by activities outside of the cafeteria. The decisions parents make to keep their kids healthy are critical in fighting this battle on the home front. We must provide parents with more information on the performance of schools so that they can make choices for their children, and take action to help schools improve.

We must also increase the opportunities for exercise and physical activities through programs like the President's Physical Fitness Challenge. And we are working with more than a dozen professional sport leagues to promote "Fuel Up To Play 60" through sports clinics, appearances, and public service announcements.

To amplify our efforts, USDA is joining with First Lady Michelle Obama in aggressively promoting the Let's Move campaign, which will combat the epidemic of childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that builds on effective strategies, and mobilizes public and private sector resources. Let's Move will engage every sector impacting the health of children to achieve the national goal of solving the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation. We will provide schools, families and communities simple tools to help kids be more active, eat better, and get healthy.

But the federal government cannot do it alone. We will need help from partners at all levels including parents, community leaders, educators, food service workers, and others who are positioned to help. That's why, as part of re-authorization, I support the creation of a new program to reward States that move aggressively to eliminate hunger by 2015. Through this program, USDA will provide competitive grants to Governors to implement creative and innovative approaches to eliminating hunger, letting the states act as laboratories for successful strategies.

Our priorities and many more will be debated by Congress in the near future as it considers legislation to modernize these programs. We find ourselves at a unique moment. More and more Americans recognize the importance of eating well and exercising, and are ready to join the effort.

And so we ask that each of you make the commitment and join the president, the First Lady and me. We ask that you work with your schools, your communities, your local government and members of Congress to build a healthier future for America's children. This is an investment in our children, our collective health, and the future of our great Nation. It's a commitment we've made, and one we hope you'll support.

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