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The Future of America's Children -- A Question of National Priorities

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As Congress goes back in session today for the final weeks of the 111th Congress, with the political mood of the country in uproar, it is essential that members and the leadership make legislative decisions based on our national, social and fiscal priorities that underscore democratic principles.

With the president's announcement last week of the postponement of troop withdrawal from the impossible war in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014, at the cost of $190 million per day (according to a recent CRS report to Congress), one would call these priorities into question. These three additional years of war in Afghanistan will add more than $169 billion to the $365.5 billion we taxpayers have already forked over in this conflict.

In the coming days, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill will be voted upon. The House has a bill would cost just $2.2 million per day ($8 billion over 10 years). A bargain at the price of feeding our nations needy children and providing for healthier food, cholesterol-free, plant-based and organic options, expanded nutrition programs and increased nutrition standards and education.

The whole 10-year child nutrition program proposed by the House of Representatives could be paid for with just 42 days worth of Afghanistan war spending.

And yet there are political forces in the Senate unwilling to pass such legislation, instead trying to force the House to accept the Senate's watered-down bill. This is a grave mistake.

How is it that we can unquestioningly fund illegal war, but not feed our children? Where better to invest our tax dollars than in the health and vitality of our children?

Children are our future. Their health, education and well being should be the nation's number-one priority. They are our nation's number-one responsibility. The track of a child's development into adulthood correlates directly to the health and vitality of the future of our nation and our world.

But today, the health and vitality of our nation is at risk because of preventable diseases caused by poor eating habits. A childhood-obesity epidemic is causing unprecedented rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Because of political inertia and corporate monopoly of our food supply, children face a future of heart surgery, dialysis, and other treatments needed for complications brought about by a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The long- and short-term health and economic costs will rock our families and our nation for decades to come unless we address the dietary behaviors that are directly causing this these health issues.

There is a tremendous opportunity to effectively and cheaply reverse the decline in public health by starting with the food we serve to children in schools. Sadly, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization process has brought to light our nation's lack of commitment to our children's health. The political stalemate in Congress over finding funding to feed our children healthy food is outrageous.

With the present overload of high-fat, high-cholesterol food, the artery walls of overweight children look more like those of an average 45 year old, according to a study presented at an American Heart Association convention. Yet neither the child, nor the 45 year old ever need to get to this point.

President Clinton recently explained that his decision to change his diet and go vegan was so that he could naturally -- without drugs -- clear his arteries, reverse his heart disease and have the added benefit of easily losing weight.

Only meat and dairy foods contain cholesterol whereas plant-based foods (whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes) have no cholesterol and are very low in saturated fat.

The House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill contains provisions that will enable schools to serve more healthy, plant-based foods. This is significant because diets rich in plant-based foods with little or no meat, dairy, poultry or fish, have been scientifically proven to prevent and also help reverse some of the most common and debilitating illnesses, the causes of rising healthcare costs and death in America today.

It is time to invest in our real national security, the health of our children! Congress must find the money to fund and pass the House version of the Child Nutrition Act, H.R. 5504. The stripped down Senate version simply will not do.