US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday urged Congress to plow billions more dollars into programs to end the twin scourges of child obesity and hunger, which impact children, the economy and national security.
With some 17 million children living in households that have to sometimes skip meals to make ends meet, and with a third of US children obese or on the road to becoming so, Vilsack called on lawmakers to "appropriate one billion dollars a year more into programs" aimed at ending the two crises.
President Barack Obama in his budget proposal for 2011 set aside an additional one billion dollars a year over 10 years for the child nutrition bill, which Congress is set to re-authorize this year.
Childhood hunger and obesity should be made national priorities, said Vilsack, speaking at the launch of a report on child hunger at the Center for American Progress.
Not only was it morally wrong for so many children to be going hungry in the world's richest nation, but hunger and obesity also impact the economy, US competitivity and even national security, Vilsack argued.
"Research shows that youngsters who are either obese or who are hungry simply do not learn as well as they ought to," said Vilsack.
"Youngsters who are obese take chronic disease into adulthood which substantially reduces their productivity as individuals and causes our health care costs to escalate," he said.
And with so many American children obese, military leaders have voiced concerns that not enough youngsters are fit to serve in the army, marine, navy and air force, which could impact US national security, he said.
The report says that child hunger costs the US economy at least 28 billion dollars per year "because poorly nourished children perform less well in school and require far more long-term health care spending.
"Further, food insufficiency severely hampers children's emotional, intellectual, and physical development, and it strongly hinders the upward mobility of their parents," it says.