Secretaries Face Children on Obesity
Kids ask hard-hitting questions of members of the president's cabinet
Feb. 10, 2010— -- "The most honest truth telling in the world is done by children," Oliver Wendell Holmes once said.
But what happens when you stick a group of politicians in a room with the most honest group in the world? It may turn into a candid discussion about a condition among children that has tripled over the last 30 years -- obesity.
Such was the case when a dozen fourth and fifth graders posed a few hard-hitting questions to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who are all now part of President Barack Obama's new federal task force to combat childhood obesity .
"Can there be more unique choices for fruits and vegetables in school lunches?" one child asked.
"Secretary Sebelius, are you holding the fast food industry responsible for what they put in the food for children? If so, what measures have you taken?" another child asked.
"We all have some responsibility," Sebelius said. "We've asked them to look at how much salt they put in products or how much sugar is in products, so there may be some healthier choices on menus."
It may sound simple, but the scale of America's obesity epidemic has risen fast. A recent study by the Institute of Medicine, comissioned by the USDA, found that half the calories consumed by children ages 6 to 11 are considered unnecessary snack calories.
Along with Obama's memorandum, the president also plans to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which expired September 2009. Obama is proposing a $10 billion budget increase -- $1 billion a year for 10 years -- to help provide nutritious school lunches to those who qualify.
Children consume as many as half of their daily calories at school, according to a 2009 report by the Institute of Medicine. More than 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and more than 11 million participate in the National School Breakfast Program, federally assisted meal programs offered in many school systems. However, critics say reimbursement rates are low and more funding is needed.
"We need to do a much better job of making sure that what's in those vending machines is very consistent," Vilsack said. "What we're doing is we're trying to figure out the foods that will basically give you a strong heart and strong body."
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