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Secretary Vilsack: Addressing Child Hunger and Improving Health

Today I testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Environment on the important issue of the upcoming reauthorization of the Department’s Child Nutrition Programs. We have a great opportunity right now to combat child hunger and improve the health and nutrition of children across the country, and we cannot let this moment pass us by.

From my first day as the Secretary of Agriculture, President Obama tasked me with improving the health and wellbeing of America’s children. We have made great strides in making progress towards these goals and raising awareness of this important issue – but we can do better. One out of every three children in America is either obese or overweight and our latest data show that over 12% of children ages 2-5 are obese. Moreover, families are struggling to provide their children food to eat. Yesterday we released the 2008 “Household Food Security in the United States” report showing that in over 500,000 families with children in 2008, one or more children simply do not get enough to eat–they had to cut the size of their meals, skip meals, or even go whole days without food at some time during the year.

The report is a wake-up call for us to get serious about food security, hunger and nutrition in this country. This is an incredibly sobering reminder of the challenge we face in confronting hunger and nutrition in the richest nation on earth. We play a critical role in contributing to the health and wellness of our nation’s future. The National School Lunch Program serves 31 million school children in more than 100,000 schools across the country. The School Breakfast Program is available in over 88,000 schools and about 11 million children participate on an average day.

This legislation can improve access by ensuring food programs reach children when and where they need it. The nutritional quality of school meals and the focus on health in schools is equally important. Children consume too many empty calories each day; we can promote more nutritious school meals through competitive grants and offer interim performance bonus programs for schools showing voluntary improvements.

The reauthorization proposal of an additional $10 billion over ten years is a significant opportunity for us to address hunger, obesity and nutrition in one stroke. We are committed to combating hunger and providing healthier foods to our nation’s future through modernized programs. Just as teachers inspire and parents encourage our children, we must embrace this opportunity to provide America’s children with the healthy foods they need to grow and learn.

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