Rep. McCarthy, chair of the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee, delivers her opening statement at a hearing regarding Improving child nutrition programs to reduce childhood obesity.
I would like to welcome our witnesses to this hearing on how we can reduce childhood obesity through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
As a nurse for over 30 years, I have seen firsthand the risks of illness that can result from obesity. In the last several months, I have read the studies that one in five 4-year-olds are obese, that kids have the arteries of middle-age adults, and that the number of children who take medication for chronic diseases has jumped dramatically.
In March, a study was released which indicated that proximity to fast food is a factor in student obesity. Some of these reports are shocking and, unfortunately, some are not. Childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease are all on the rise in the United States, and one of the best tools that we have to combat these illnesses is our ability to provide wholesome and healthy nutrition to children in school.
Childhood obesity is found in all 50 states, in both young children and adolescents, affecting all social and economical levels. Low-income communities tend to have the highest obesity rate due to factors such as lack of access to affordable healthy foods, lack of safe, available venues for physical activity, and a lack of education about nutrition and its benefits. Furthermore, it has been found that minority children are at the greatest risk for obesity.
There is no silver bullet to solve childhood obesity. However, the school breakfast and lunch programs can make a great impact because they provide more than 50 percent of a student's food and nutrition intake on school days. The decisions we are making during reauthorization are very important to a great number of children, and that is why we have assembled such a knowledgeable panel.
We were here today to explore how we can reduce obesity through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. There is a wealth of information available on the issue of reducing obesity, and, in my mind, it comes down to two things: healthy eating and physical activity. These sound simple, but families all over the nation know it is far from simple.
Given the current harsh financial realities, many families in my district and throughout the nation, schools have an increasingly important role to play in improving with nutritious food during their days at school. I also hear from folks in schools finding it more and more difficult to meet the increased demand of meals with healthy, nutritious and high quality foods without adequate funding.
We also know how critical it is to reach the youngest children and infants as soon as possible. I hear from constituents all the time how important the WIC programs are to help families transition from poor eating habits to healthy habits.
This is particularly important because WIC is working with the youngest of our children. As we will hear about today, the Institute of Medicine has undertaken a study to review and provide recommendations to update the nutrition and meal standards for school nutrition programs.
School meal standards are critical, and I appreciate Dr. Stallings being here to discuss her work. Of course, children aren't just eating school meals when they are at school.
Foods in vending machines and less healthy a la carte items in the cafeteria are readily available. And while in school, many children are subject to junk food advertisements. The students are a captive audience, and advertisers have proven to be remarkably effective at influencing their target customers.
Representative Woolsey has done a lot of work in this area, and I am looking forward to her testimony regarding issues surrounding competitive foods.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, in addition to healthy foods, physical activity is the other critical element in reducing obesity. We know that change for adults is hard. But if we start to educate our children early enough, we can establish lifelong habits and the values of healthy living and wellness for the future.
We also know that studies show children who are physically active learn better. We will hear testimony today about some terrific and innovative programs schools are using to address obesity.
We have our work cut out for us, but by taking a comprehensive approach to nutrition, our children, families and communities will all be healthier. I want to thank all of you being here, and I look forward to your testimony.