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Senators, other leaders describe ways to attack obesity

Government leaders talk about ways to ease the childhood obesity crisis.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

As kids growing up, we always, in our orchard, had pear trees and apple trees and apricot trees and cherry trees. We had fresh vegetables, grapevines; we canned a lot of fruits. Imagine my amazement when I later got on the Education Committee and I was going around, visiting different schools, finding out the kids in the fifth grade had never had a fresh pear, didn’t even know what it was. They thought it came in a can with heavy syrup. Well, that’s what led me, in the 2001 farm bill, to put in this program to give kids free fresh fruits and vegetables. If you put a fruit in a vending machine and the kids have to put money in it, they’re not going to pay for it. But if you give them a fresh piece of fruit in the morning and they eat it, then they don’t get the “growlies” around 10 o’clock in the morning.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

In a 2010 report, the military announced that over 9 million potential military recruits are considered physically unfit to serve due to overweight and obese conditions. And between ’95 and 2008 there was a 70 percent increase in military recruits who failed their physical exam because they were overweight.

Now, lest you think that this has a cost that’s intangible, it has a real cost. It’s about $50,000 to train each new recruit. And when you lose, as we did, 1,200 first-term enlistees every year, that adds up to some real money, $60 million. This is a national security issue.

Kathleen Merrigan

Deputy secretary of agriculture

We’re not saying there are good foods and bad foods. It’s about portion size; it’s about moderation. And I think especially with my own children, if I start making foods prohibited, then they become very attractive.

I go to so many forums around the country on this issue where I hear that eating healthy is too expensive. The new dietary guidelines for Americans say that half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and people say, “Oh, I can’t afford that.”

Well, that’s actually not true. The Economic Research Service of USDA puts out reports on the cost of fruits and vegetables.They looked at 153 commonly consumed fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. The average price ranged from less than 20 cents to $2.

Now, if you want to have raspberries around this time of year, that’s the one that’s on the high end. But you can get pinto beans for 13 cents a cup, carrots for 25 cents a cup. Bananas, melons, oranges, watermelon — all around that 20- to-35-cents-a-cup equivalent.

Bob Ehrlich

Former Maryland governor (R)

I’ve spent the last four years coaching kids. Everything we’re talking about here today, the intersection of government and parenting, comes home every practice, three nights a week every fall. I watch these young boys mature and either do the right thing or do the wrong thing, watch the parents either involved or not involved, watch the kids mature with regard to manners and discipline and eating habits, or not. So, it just comes down tonot primarily government, but how we raise our kids and the commitments we make every day as individuals, as parents, to give to our kids on a daily basis.

Robin Schepper

Executive director, Let’s Move!

I can tell you firsthand my sons go to a school up in Upper Northwest, and we have a garden. And we did the harvest, the most amazing thing happened, I saw a little kindergartner eating a radish. And I went up to her and I said, “You know, isn’t that radish a little spicy?” And she looked at me and she said, “Ms. Robin, I grew that radish. That is my radish, and I’m going to eat that radish.” And so, just in that moment there was a light bulb in my head just saying, “If we had more gardens in schools, if we have more opportunities for kids to get their hands dirty in the dirt, I think that they’re going to eating more fruits and vegetables because they feel some type of ownership.” And that’s not a mandate. That is just an opportunity.

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