"We want our youngsters at the top of their game," said Secretary Vilsack of the USDA this week on a conference call in which I had the honor of participating.
He was talking about the Children's Nutrition Act, which is up for reauthorization this year. And he had a very large audience.
As any parent knows, the landscape of children's health has changed, often making childhood feel like a pre-existing condition. Today, 32 percent of children are obese; one in three American children have allergies, asthma, ADHD or autism ; the sale of pediatric drug prescriptions like EpiPens are up 700 percent over the last decade; and we now spend 17 cents of every dollar on managing the chronic conditions that confront our families: diabetes, asthma, allergies, ADHD and cancer.
As a result, our children are no longer guaranteed a safe and healthy childhood. Not in the face of these surging epidemics, placing new demands on parents and caregivers around the country.
But fortunately, we are mobilizing and addressing the issue. From the Secretary of the USDA to the First Lady, from Faith Based Organizations to the Top Producing Farmers that I had the honor of meeting earlier this month, we are all doing our part to affect change. And everyone is invited to have a seat at the table as we work to restore the health of our families.
As the beverage industry lends its support to the First Lady's obesity initiative, it demonstrates the importance of not making "the perfect" the enemy of "the good" and how we can all do our part so that vending machines for prescriptions drugs won't eventually take up residence next to the vending machines for soda in the school hallways.
Our children need us. This call to action is something that we can't ignore - its poignancy reinforced by Secretary Vilsack who so candidly shared that "as a youngster, I was obese...and a vicious cartoon hung on the refrigerator at home, as a reminder of what my parents thought I looked like."
The suffering of children is intolerable . And in the words of Secretary Vilsack on our conference call this week, "We all ought to be engaged as a national community to do what we set out to do in 1946 (with the launch of our National School Lunch Program) and that is to make our kids healthy."
The opportunity to be part of the solution is enormous, the invitation has been extended to all of us, and the time to restore the health of our children is now.