WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at today’s hearing reviewing critical child nutrition programs.
Stabenow’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.
Thank you Chairman Roberts for convening today’s hearing. I look forward to working with you – and members of this Committee – as we continue the work we began last year to strengthen child nutrition programs.
And thank you to our witnesses for testifying today. You bring important perspectives from all sides of this issue, and I look forward to hearing your testimony.
As we all know – our children’s health and well-being are at a crossroads.
Obesity rates in children have tripled in the past 30 years. Today, about one in three American children and teens are overweight or obese.
We are now seeing health problems typically unseen until adulthood – from high blood pressure to type 2 diabetes – in young people who should be focused on Little League or going to the prom.
This obesity epidemic requires a serious commitment on our part to continue moving forward with the nutrition policies we put in place five years ago, in order to give our children a fair shot to be healthy and successful.
Last year this Committee heard from retired military leaders desperate to help improve the health conditions of their soldiers and young recruits.
In his testimony, retired four star Air Force General Richard Hawley said that obesity is one of three main reasons why an estimated 70 percent of all young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 cannot qualify for military service.
Their concerns are echoed by more than 450 retired generals and admirals who are trying to raise awareness about the impacts that poor childhood nutrition has on our national security and its cost to taxpayers.
This recruitment crisis requires us to continue moving forward with the nutrition policies we put in place five years ago.
In addition to childhood obesity issues, we also have the second challenge of childhood hunger.
As we approach the end of the school year, more than 20 million students who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year will struggle to eat any meal, let alone a healthy meal, this summer.
This hunger crisis for our children requires us to continue moving forward to strengthen our summer meals programs.
We also have millions of pregnant mothers and children in our communities who are nutritionally at-risk – which can which can lead to low birth weight, increased childhood disease, and impaired brain development. And that's why continuing to protect and strengthen the WIC program is so important.
It’s for all those reasons and many more that we meet today and must take this process of reauthorizing our child nutrition programs seriously.
The good news is, for the first time in years, it looks as though we are beginning to make some progress on these issues.
Obesity rates have begun to stabilize in some areas.
More children are eating healthy breakfasts and lunches than ever before. Children are eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruits, according to Harvard’s School of Public Health.
And as I have said many times, it seems to me that our children are worth continuing the requirement that school meals include a half cup of fruits or vegetables as part of our commitment to their health and success.
But there is much more to do.
Nutrition, at its core, is preventative medicine. And child nutrition is about leveling the playing field so that a baby, a child, a teen – in Detroit or a rural town in Kansas or a suburb of Atlanta or farm in Iowa – has every opportunity to be healthy and successful.
That’s why it’s crucial that this Committee work together in a bipartisan way to ensure these nutrition programs continue to operate efficiently and effectively and that we continue to move forward.
Our children and their families are counting on us.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman