News Column

Chairwoman Stabenow: Investments in Child Nutrition Critical for our Nation's Security, Economy, Health

June 12, 2014



WASHINGTON, June 12 -- The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee issued the following news release:

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said child nutrition has a major impact on America's biggest priorities like national security and long-term economic sustainability, and investments must be made now to ensure the future safety and strength of the nation. Stabenow's comments came during the first in a series of hearings the Committee will convene as part of the larger effort to update child nutrition laws, which were last reauthorized in 2010.

Noting that more than 16 million children in the country do not have enough food to eat while childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years, Stabenow emphasized the statistics have a chilling effect when we consider the consequences.

"These trends are not just a threat to the health of America's young people, they are a threat to the future of our national security," Stabenow said. "Roughly 27 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are too overweight to serve in the military, and the proportion of new recruits who failed physical exams during the past 13 years rose by nearly 70 percent."

"Today our military leaders are asking that we protect and strengthen school nutrition programs so that we can strengthen our nation's military preparedness and improve the long-term health of the next generation of Americans."

Stabenow also pressed that it's critical we make investments in strengthening nutrition programs as increases in obesity and weight-related diseases in children is having a rippling effect across all parts of the economy.

"It is estimated that the nation spends about $14 billion a year to treat obesity and preventable, weight-related diseases in children. Yet for 14 cents, we can give a child an apple. These are the critical types of investments we can make now to save billions down the road."

The hearing's witnesses spoke about the importance of child nutrition through the lens of major national priorities, presenting perspectives on behalf of military leaders, doctors and researchers, school leaders and parents and teachers.

Those who testified included General Richard Hawley, United States Air Force (Ret.), Mission: Readiness, Washington DC; Mr. Otha Thornton, President, National Parent Teacher Association, Fort Stewart, GA; Dr. Stephen R. Cook, Physician, Associate Professor, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY; and, Ms. Yolanda Stanislaus, Principal, Francis Scott Key Middle School, Silver Spring, MD.

An archived webcast of today's hearing can be viewed on the Committee's website at http://ag.senate.gov. Below are Chairwoman Stabenow's opening remarks, as prepared for delivery.

Opening Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

June 12, 2014: A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to our Nation's Health, Economy and National Security

I'd like to welcome everyone to the Committee's first hearing as we begin the process of reauthorizing Child Nutrition Programs. These conversations could not come at a more critical time.

Today, more than 16 million children in this country do not have enough food to eat. And yet, at the same time, childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years. Something is wrong with this picture. These trends are not just a threat to the health of America's young people, they are a threat to the future of our national security.

For generations, the U.S. Military has depended on the strength and courage of young Americans to form the world's most elite fighting force. Our military leaders recognize this, and historically, when they have asked for Congress' help, we have responded.

Near the end of World War II, General Lewis Hershey came before Congress to explain that malnutrition and underfeeding were to blame for recruits being rejected for service in the Armed Forces. In response to the General's concerns, Congress launched the National School Lunch Program, calling it a "measure of national security."

Today our military leaders have a similar request for Congress. And it is the same request we will hear from pediatricians, from school leaders and from parents:

They ask that we protect and strengthen school nutrition programs so that we can strengthen our nation's military preparedness and improve the long-term health of the next generation of Americans.

This request has even more urgency today than it had 70 years ago. That's because roughly 27 percent of the Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are too overweight to serve in the military, and the proportion of new recruits who failed physical exams during the past 13 years rose by nearly 70 percent.

Childhood obesity and weight-related diseases weaken our nation's financial security, as well.

It is estimated that the nation spends about $14 billion a year to treat obesity and preventable, weight-related diseases in children.

Yet for 14 cents, we can give a child an apple - $14 billion or 14 cents. That reminds me of what Benjamin Franklin said: " an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

These are the critical types of investments we can make now to save billions down the road, reducing many of the high costs associated with treating preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and liver disease.

And in the classroom, a school breakfast can spur a lifetime of learning and achievement.

We know that children who receive a healthy breakfast are likely to have better math scores and are less likely to be absent from class.

For many children, a healthy lunch can form the foundation for a lifetime of good health. Making sure children have healthy, nutritious food will mean they can focus on what's important - learning, growing, and ultimately becoming productive and successful in future years.

While it's often easy to think of programs in terms of a 6-month budget or the annual appropriation, this hearing is about the big picture.

School breakfast and lunch are key components of child nutrition, but it is important we remember child nutrition is also about wellness policies and WIC. It's about farm-to-school and day care. It's about reducing hunger for kids after school and during the summer months.

The reauthorization of child nutrition programs is important.

Investing in our children's nutritional health is not just about the cost of a meal, it's about investing in our nation's future and our most critical priorities - stronger national security, long-term economic strength, educational success, and healthy, happy lives for our families.

I'm pleased that we have a great panel of witnesses with us today who can discuss the big picture impact of investing in the health of our children.

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