Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Vermont Leading the Nation in Children’s Health

I am pleased, although not surprised, with the latest news that Vermont’s children rank as the healthiest.  Recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Vermont ranks at the top or near the top of the list on a variety of metrics, including a child’s access to health care, and percentage of children who exercise regularly.  We all know that healthy habits begin in childhood, and Vermont has worked for years to ensure that all Vermont children have access to healthy beginnings.    

Vermont has long been a trailblazer on health care, particularly for children.  Recognizing that access to health care for children and pregnant women is critical to a healthy society, Vermont created the Dr. Dynasaur program in 1989 to help families who could not afford health insurance but could not qualify for Medicaid.  The program was such a success Governor Howard Dean expanded Dr. Dynasaur in 1991 to cover all children and teens.  Governor Dean’s success with the program and leadership on the issue paved the way for Congress to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Vermont has taken other steps as well to ensure all children can grow up healthy.  In addition to having one of the lowest rates of uninsured children, Vermont has worked hard to give children access to healthy meals at school.  Vermont brings local food into schools and teaches children about healthy eating through the farm to school program.  And in order to make sure all children have access to school meals, Vermont gives those eligible for reduced price lunches those meals for free.  By working in a coordinated fashion across agencies and with advocacy groups, Vermont reaches out to children in need to help those families receive access to health care, nutrition assistance, and other vital safety net programs. 

Unfortunately, there are still some troubling national trends related to children’s health of which Vermont is not immune.  Larger serving sizes and greater access to junk food combined with sedentary lifestyles have contributed to the steady rise in childhood obesity rates.  Additionally, we are seeing a rise in the number of children living in poverty and without consistent access to nutritious food and health care.  If we fail to reverse these trends, we are setting our children up for health problems that will last well into adulthood.

We must continue to support the efforts of our states and so many families who are trying to help their children make healthy choices.  Instead of working to undermine the efforts we have made to ensure children can eat nutritious meals in school, or to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or reducing eligibility in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program or other nutrition programs, we should be working together to ensure all American children have the chance to succeed.  Vermont has shown tremendous leadership in this area, and I hope we can all learn from its model. 

I ask unanimous consent that the following Washington Post article, “Best state in America: Vermont, for its healthy kids,” be placed in the Record. 


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