In his Senate confirmation hearing for the post of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack pledged to use federal nutrition programs to end childhood hunger by 2015.
That's a worthy, if overdue, goal. But is it enough?
Vilsack said a lot of the right words: "Its going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children's diets ... that means supporting those who supply those products," he said, according to CQ Politics.
New research out just this week again highlights how important early childhood nutrition and health is to the wellbeing of that child for his or her entire life.
A diet of fast food cheeseburgers as a toddler produces adults prone to obesity by influencing genes that govern the processing and storage of nutrients, according to new research by the University of Calgary published in the Journal of Physiology. The study compared rats who were fed different diets as pups but the same high-fat, high-sweet diets as adults; those who ate a high-protein diet as pups, rather than a fiber-rich diet, gained much more weight as adults.
"There's a growing body of work that indicates a relationship between our health as adults and our early diet, and even our mother's diet," the lead researcher, Dr. Raylene Reimer, said in a press release. "This research shows for the first time that our early childhood diet may have a huge impact on our health as adults."
Another recent study, by Cornell University published by the American Chemical Society, pointed out another way the Obama Administration will have to coordinate efforts if children are to be spared unnecessary risk. The study points out the vast and unpredictable differences between a developing immune system and an adult immune system, and calls on regulators to consider carefully the effects on fetuses and infants when approving chemicals for use.
Like the early diet, early exposure to chemicals can have far-reaching and longterm effects which aren't fully appreciated until later in life. (Yet another new study shows that even long-banned toxic chemicals are still found in the blood of virtually all Americans.) Regulation of chemicals will be the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which under the Bush Administration have been loathe to put restrictions on industry, even when independent science points to worrying effects from exposure to common chemicals. Bisphenol A is the most glaring example recently.
Obama cabinet picks will have to use this kind of research to set policies. His pick for Surgeon General, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, will have to communicate risks and recommend good behaviors to the public. (He hasn't always been out in front on progressive health issues.)
The Environmental Working Group is pressuring Tom Daschle, the coordinator of Obama's health care policies, to include early childhood toxic exposures as a priority in any emerging health care plan.
Obama and his cabinet have pledged to let science rule their decision making. That's important, particularly since the revolutionary National Children's Study officially began this month. By tracking the health of children from the time their mothers' are pregnant until they turn 21, researchers expect to uncover a host of underlying causes of disease.
Then, it will be up to the Obama administration to act -- to educate the public, through its Surgeon General, and through its policies, as set by secretaries across the cabinet.
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