On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet with Rachael Ray, host of 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network, to discuss child obesity and poor nutrition, two major contributors to health and developmental problems. Our conversation focused on a number of interrelated issues, including nutrition education, access to healthy and affordable food and school breakfast and lunch meals.
The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity among developed nations. Obesity increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and arthritis, resulting in estimated yearly costs of over $117 billion.
I appreciate Rachael Ray’s work through her organization Yum-o and the attention she is paying to the food-related issues we are facing. There are countless people throughout Pennsylvania who work on these issues and I appreciate everything that is being done to reverse the current trends.
I believe that every person is able to make a difference and help to change our current food culture. One way that I am working to address these concerns is to ensure children eat healthy foods. Currently, I am working on addressing these issues as the Senate considers the Child Nutrition Act, the renewing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other legislation.
Ending hunger remains one of my top priorities as it cuts across all of the major challenges we are facing, including preventive health care, quality of life for families and the ability of children to take full advantage of educational opportunities.
On Monday, I held a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Field Hearing on Partnering to Prepare: Expanding Access to High Quality Early Childhood Education because I believe every parent, regardless of income, should have access to high quality pre-kindergarten for their children. I introduced the Prepare All Kids Act in both the 110th and 111th Congress to help all children prepare for school by investing in high-quality pre-kindergarten education that will give our children the best start in life.
The hearing was held at the Morrisville School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which has had success with its state-funded Pre-K Counts program. At the hearing I was able to gather valuable information from six witnesses: Dr. Elizabeth Hammond Yonson, who is the Superintendent of the Morrisville School District; Melissa Bowman, who taught Pre-K in both Philadelphia and Morrisville and currently teaches kindergarten in the Morrisville School District; Michelle Fina, who is the Branch Director of the Morrisville YMCA, which runs a Pre-K program; Dr. Deborah Ackerman, who is a professor at Rutgers University and has conducted research on the benfits of high-quality Pre-K programs; Joan Benso, who is the President & CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and; Todd Klunk, who is the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office of Child Development & Early Learning.
All of the witnesses provide years of experience either working directly with children in Pre-K programs, administering Pennsylvania’s Pre-K programs or conducting years of research on the benefits that pre-K programs provide. Listening to these testimonies reinforced the need and importance of ensuring that our children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are able to access high quality early childhood education. It is especially important as the HELP Committee moves toward the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also called “No Child Left Behind.”
Beyond individual families, there are enormous benefits to communities and the economy, which will never remain competitive if we do no rethink how we educate our children.
This week I worked with my colleagues on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to mark up S. 982, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The bill will give FDA the authority it needs to regulate tobacco products and work to prevent our children from smoking and beginning potentially life-long and life-threatening habits. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the bill in April and the HELP Committee successfully voted it out of Committee on Wednesday evening, by a vote of 15-8. Senator Reid has indicated that the full Senate will take up the bill after the Memorial Day recess. I look forward to passing this bill in the Senate and seeing it signed into law.
Did you know that 18,400 children and teens in Pennsylvania start smoking every year, and 20,000 adults in PA die each year from tobacco-related causes? Please visit the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids at www.tobaccofreekids.org for more information about preventing youth smoking, and follow the progress of the bill at www.thomas.gov (search for “S. 982”).