LAST Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee held its first of many hearings regarding childhood nutrition and the upcoming reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which were last reauthorized in 2010.
In what Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) termed the "big-picture" points within the discussion, the hearing focused on how childhood nutrition has a major impact on national security and long-term economic sustainability.
Witnesses at the hearing spoke about the importance of childhood nutrition through the lens of major national priorities, presenting perspectives on behalf of military leaders, doctors and researchers, school leaders and parents and teachers.
In recent weeks, school nutrition programs have gotten increased attention as the House agricultural appropriations bill considers allowing waivers for schools that are consistently losing money from implementing the programs' standards, which require schools to serve students more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Stabenow warned that the House's approach would take a step backward on the progress made to improve children's nutritional habits and said she would not support a similar approach in a final bill.
Stabenow noted that, similar to what resulted from farm bill discussions, the best way to reach a workable compromise is to "find ways to bring people together and not find corners" to cut. She is confident that this can be done in a bipartisan way.
Dr. Stephen Cook, a physician and pediatrician as well as an associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said he has seen firsthand that children's eating and activity habits are established very early in life.
"This critical window about how eating habits and healthy lifestyles are imprinted behaviorally and biologically provides a great and, I would argue, unique opportunity for improving the health of our nation's children, lowering medical costs and improving productivity."
On behalf of Mission: Readiness, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley testified that legislators need to be persistent and stay with the program.
"I'm sure it's not perfect, but it's beginning to work," he said. "This is a cultural issue, and cultures take a long time to change. We shouldn't expect instant results, most of all regarding a program to change the nation's eating habits. In time, we'll see the results."