Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekly Column From Ag Secretary Thomas Vilsack

Weekly column from USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack

This week, we are renewing our efforts at USDA to encourage a generational shift to improve childhood nutrition.

Today, too many of our children aren’t getting the nutrition they need. One-third of today’s children are at risk for preventable health problems because of their weight. Only a quarter of our 17 to 24 year old young people are eligible for military service, in part because many of them are overweight or obese.

Meanwhile, too many kids aren’t getting enough to eat in the first place – hurting their performance at school and their chances to achieve great things.

Unless we ensure that today’s young people grow up healthy and strong, we will see more and more negative impacts in the years ahead. Reversing this trend starts with our youngest generation, and USDA has joined schools and families across the country to take action.

We have helped increase the availability of healthy foods. USDA is working with parents, teachers and school districts to provide healthier school meals – a result of nutrition standards implemented under the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This is important, because many of our children get more than half of their calories during the school day.

We have also helped to promote school breakfast. According to a recent study released by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, eating a good breakfast improves a student’s test scores and ultimately raises their likelihood to graduate from high school by 20 percent.

Through our Farm to School program, USDA has helped communities across the nation to provide locally sourced, fresh fruits and vegetables for our young people. And since 2009 we have helped establish nearly 1,900 People’s Gardens across the nation – including more than 150 school gardens.

Meanwhile, USDA has taken steps to expand the availability of information regarding nutrition. The MyPlate icon, for example, provides families with an easy reference to make healthy choices at mealtimes. We have also created the “SuperTracker” – an online tool used by more than two million Americans to track their nutrition and physical activity on a daily basis.

These achievements have come alongside our efforts to maximize program funding for child nutrition and other critical efforts by identifying more than $700 million in cost savings and efficiencies across the Department.

But we know that more needs to be done. Childhood obesity is not a minor issue with a simple fix. Childhood hunger continues to block the road to success for too many. Together, these challenges threaten our future, and they require bold solutions.

In the weeks, months and years to come, I hope that we can work together to achieve generational change in childhood nutrition, and help today’s youngsters grow up ready to lead the world.

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