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Targeting the epidemic of childhood obesity

By By Jo Bonner
Earlier this year, I was named ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee's Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry Subcommittee, and last week, we held our first hearing of the 110th Congress.
The purpose of the hearing was to review how the federal food stamp program impacts the health of our children, and given the obesity crisis our nation is currently facing, this hearing could not have come at a better time.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and various individuals from around the country shared with the committee some of their knowledge and experience in this field.
I was especially pleased that one of my constituents, Ren/ Massey, appeared before the committee during the second panel and offered her expertise as director of the Department of Human Resources in Baldwin County.
The federal Food Stamp Program, established over 40 years ago, has played an important role in food security for low-income households throughout the United States. A great number of individuals and families in our country depend on these benefits.
In fact, according to the most recent data available, over 45,000 households in Alabama's First Congressional District are currently receiving food stamp benefits – that's almost 18 percent of the total households in my district.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites two surveys, one from 1976-1980, and the other from 2003-2004, to illustrate the prevalence of overweight children. Between those two timeframes, the prevalence of overweight children aged two to five years increased from five percent to 13.9 percent; for those aged six to 11 years, prevalence increased from six and a half percent to 18.8 percent; and finally, for those aged 12-19 years, prevalence increased from five percent to 17.4%.
It is absolutely imperative we do what we can to help curb this epidemic. Educating our children with regard to what is healthy versus what is not healthy is one of the things we can do to help in this effort.
Like many young boys growing-up, I know I didn't always like hearing from my mother to eat my broccoli, but it's that type of education we need in order to help us be successful.
As the father of two young children, trust me, I know how hard that can be. However, we must work to educate our children, in addition to providing them the types of nutritious foods they need in their daily diets.
USDA, in the summary of their 2007 Farm Bill Proposal, states that children under 18 years of age generally consume 50 percent or less of the recommended levels of fruit and vegetables. The summary goes on to say that providing increased fruit and vegetable options in the food assistance programs can help increase consumption as well as improve the quality of many Americans' diets.
I agree with this assessment and know we need to work to improve the nutrition aspect of the Food Stamp Program as we move forward in the 2007 Farm Bill process.
Local officials visit Washington
Each year at this time, the National League of Cities (NLC) holds its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. This organization, founded in 1924 as a means of giving municipalities a greater voice in national affairs, is a working partnership of 49 state municipal leagues, representing over 18,000 communities, towns, and cities from all fifty states.
At this year's conference, mayors, city council representatives, and community officials from throughout Alabama's First District made the trip to Washington to visit with colleagues from across the nation.
Through several days of committee meetings, training sessions, and events with national political leaders, the members of the NLC have the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of developing trends in local government and share information on successes in local economic and community development.
Just as importantly, the representatives from Alabama took the opportunity to meet with the members of Alabama's congressional delegation to highlight their individual community priorities and – more significantly – plans being developed for regional growth throughout southwest Alabama.
I was privileged to have the opportunity to meet with the men and women who have been elected to represent each of you on the local level and to hear the goals they have developed for ensuring their cities and towns are both forward-thinking and forward-moving.
The men and women representing you in the city halls of south Alabama – whether first-term city clerks or five-term mayors – are working hard for you.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.