Vilsack Focuses on Childhood Obesity, Let’s Move! Campaign

December 20, 2010
With more than half of American children facing serious nutrition challenges, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called on local officials to partner with the Obama Administration in tackling this issue that has economic competitiveness and national security ramifications. 

Vilsack addressed the Delegates Luncheon during the Congress of Cities & Exposition in Denver following a video greeting from first lady Michelle Obama. 

The first lady stressed that one in three American children are either overweight or obese; her Let's Move initiative aims to end childhood obesity in a generation. 

At the same time, Vilsack said, one in four children lives in a home in which at least some members went without one or more meals during a 30-day period because there weren't enough resources to feed the family. 

"It's tough to be at the top of your game academically if you're hungry," the secretary said. 

And today's youngsters must be at the top of their game because they must compete not only against others in their hometowns, but against children worldwide, he said. 

Compounding that are obesity-related health issues, like heart disease and diabetes, that substantially increase health care costs at a time when the nation is looking to reduce such costs. 

The secretary spoke of a group of 155 retired generals and admirals who, in supporting recently passed child nutrition legislation, pointed out that only 25 percent of Americans aged 19 to 24 are fit for military service. The retired officers fear the armed forces will be unable to meet recruitment needs if insufficient numbers of young people are fit for service. 

Vilsack urged attendees to use their power of persuasion in their communities to focus attention on nutrition and the Let's Move campaign. He stressed using foundations and charitable organizations to leverage resources and drawing on volunteer help. 

The secretary noted that most of his suggested actions don't carry a price tag at the municipal level. "It's not that heavy a lift," he said. 

Vilsack advised setting up food policy councils to look for barriers to access to healthy food and generate interest in the business community. 

Local officials can champion farmers' markets, make vacant lots available for individual gardens and set up summer feeding programs for children when school is out of session. 

They can encourage local schools to participate in the Healthy U.S. School Challenge, which can provide additional financial resources to schools that commit to more physical activity and nutrition consistent with dietary guidelines. 

"It is a profound opportunity, without a great deal of money, to make an exceptional and significant difference to your country," the secretary declared. "Imagine if 10 years from now we come back and we can report that... our youngsters are fit, they're physically active ... they're growing up as ... adults who have achieved extraordinary things in school because they've been able to focus and concentrate."