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Weisenberger: Congress Should Give Every Child a Chance to Live a Healthy Lifestyle

As a registered dietitian and nutrition counselor, I’m encouraged to see movement this week in the House Education and Labor Committee on childhood nutrition reauthorization. A strong child nutrition bill based on sound science that guides the types of foods sold during the school day is critical to the health of our nation’s youth. In fact, it is one of the most important things we can do to ensure every child has access to healthy options and proper nutrition to live a long life. It is a sad reality that because of obesity and poor health habits, this generation is likely to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Congress has the power to change this course by passing a strong child nutrition bill this year.

[IMGCAP(1)]In my profession, I guide adults to make healthier food choices for themselves and their families. The education and coaching I offer focuses on making small changes that over time lead to big results. As a busy working mom, I know that this simple concept of eating balanced and wholesome foods is also important to teach at home. Arming our kids with good eating habits and teaching them how to put together a good meal for themselves is one of the most important lessons we can teach. And while we may be able to control to some degree what they eat at home, we lose influence when we send them off to school. Though they may have a large number of food choices at school, they aren’t always balanced options.

Everyone understands the importance of a strong child nutrition law. The cafeteria workers are on board, teachers and school administrators are on board, even Rachael Ray threw her celebrity status behind the bill. In particular, the people who will be tasked with bringing healthier options into schools — the food and beverage industry — are on board. Everyone is behind this effort, and so now is the time to get it done.

Another reason to move forward quickly is so that Congress and all levels of government can turn their attention to the other part of the equation in helping our children achieve a healthful weight — a lack of physical activity.

Physical activity and regular exercise must be part of the solution. To get where we want to go, we can’t focus solely on what kids are consuming; there must also be a focus and a government effort to increase the ways in which they can burn those calories. Just last week, President Barack Obama expanded the role of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and first lady Michelle Obama seized the opportunity to show how it related to her fight to solve childhood obesity within a generation.

Sure, parents need to encourage their kids to exercise, but Congress also has a role to play. One bill introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) expands physical education in school, while also changing the built environment by ensuring there are sidewalks and bike paths to walk and bike to and from school. This is a good first step toward giving kids more options to include activity in their daily lives.

Raising fit children requires action on many fronts. Giving kids healthier options in the lunch line is the first step. Ensuring they have chances to run, bike and play is the next. We can’t do one without the other, and there is little time to waste. As the first lady has said on numerous occasions, “we can do a lot of talking, and worrying and wringing our hands, we really need to get moving.” I couldn’t agree more.

Jill Weisenberger is a nutrition counselor, writer and consultant to the food and beverage industry.

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