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Sunday, October 10, 2004 :: infoZine Staff :: page views
War Against Childhood Obesity: USDA Launches New Front
by Ann M. Veneman, U.S. Secretary Of Agriculture - Across the country, schools, communities, and families are banding together to fight an epidemic that threatens our children and our future.

KidsThat epidemic is childhood obesity.

The percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled in the last 20 years, from seven percent to 15 percent. Among adolescents, the number has tripled, from five percent to 16 percent.

Those children are on a dangerous path. Approximately 400,000 deaths a year in the U.S. are associated with overweight and obesity.

But this is an epidemic that we can fight -- and that is exactly what we are doing.

The President has proclaimed October 10 through 16 to be National School Lunch Week, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is observing it by launching a new, nationwide initiative aimed at helping our children make good choices about their health, from eating right to getting daily physical activity.

The HealthierUS School Challenge will offer guidance and recognition for schools that voluntarily meet rigorous standards to make all food offered in schools healthier, to create more opportunities for physical activity, and to include more education about healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices in the curriculum. By offering specific and detailed guidelines, the HealthierUS School Challenge provides a clear pathway for schools to follow to help their students become healthier and happier. Schools can strive for different levels of certification, each with stronger standards -- and better results for students.

The School Challenge is an outgrowth of the USDA's successful Team Nutrition program. Team Nutrition has enlisted 28,000 schools across the country to build local networks of public and private partnerships -- including parents, teachers, food service staff, health and education groups, and the food and agricultural community -- who work working together to make school meals a healthier part of every student's day. Now the HealthierUS School Challenge will build on the lessons of those successes.

Team Nutrition and the HealthierUS School Challenge are supporting a pattern we are seeing across the country: schools, communities and families are teaming up to fight back against childhood obesity.

The most recent data available shows that 80 percent of schools now offer meal choices to students that meet standards for good nutrition. More and more schools are working to offer healthy food at breakfast and lunch, and to cut down on fried foods and sugary snacks. Physical education is reappearing on the curriculum.

And it is important to note that schools are not in this alone. President Bush has said that true success in fighting obesity requires a 'cultural change' toward individual responsibility and community involvement. We are seeing real signs that such a change is happening. For example, some snack manufacturers have recently begun to eliminate trans-fats from their products. These companies and others are part of a wave of food producers that are moving toward offering healthier products. That is a positive sign that we can and will work together as a nation to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Just two weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report emphasizing that to be effective in fighting childhood obesity, we must undertake a comprehensive effort that enlists every part of our society.

National School Lunch Week is the perfect time to reinforce these messages. Initiatives like Team Nutrition and the HealthierUS School Challenge are reaching out to schools, communities and families. But without the active participation of all of us, these efforts cannot be effective.

There is still much work to be done, but we are making progress. Together, parents, schools and communities are helping our children learn how to make the right choices -- and they will be happier and healthier for it.

Ann M. Veneman is the 27th U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
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