WASHINGTON The United States can end child hunger through steps like serving more healthful food in school meals, Agriculture Secretary-nominee Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday, urging an end to childhood hunger by 2015.
"That's a challenge we should take seriously," Vilsack said during his confirmation hearing. President-elect Barack Obama called during his campaign for an end to childhood hunger by 2015.
Vilsack said the Agriculture Department's child nutrition programs, which include school lunch, school breakfast and school milk, could be a vehicle for improving nutrition. They cost more than $15 billion a year and are due for reauthorization this year.
"This is a powerful and rich country and none of us should be satisfied there are children going to bed hungry," Vilsack said.
He said he would try to put more fresh fruit and vegetables into schools and to encourage purchases of locally grown food.
He also said the U.S. Agriculture Department can "market good eating habits as a way to serve our country."
One-third of Americas, whether adults or children, are overweight.
"The health crisis aligns squarely with the need to promote more nutrition in our diets," Vilsack said in prepared remarks for the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing.
Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said in an interview Jan. 7 he hoped to expand funding for child nutrition programs as part of renewing them and to eliminate junk food from school meals.
The antihuger group Food Research and Action Center said the school breakfast program reaches less than half of the eligible low-income children. In an annual report, FRAC said 8.5 million children were served during the 2007/08 school year, up 4 percent. FRAC urged larger funding for child nutrition programs.
Some 30.9 million children participated in the school lunch program in fiscal 2008, which ended on Sept. 30. Half of the meals were served at no cost to poor children.