That epidemic is childhood
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
Those children are on a dangerous path. Approximately 400,000
deaths a year in the U.S. are associated with overweight and obesity.
this is an epidemic that we can fight -- and that is exactly what we are
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
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.
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
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
Ann M. Veneman is the 27th U.S. Secretary of