Cabinet Push For Kids Health

Lenny Kravitz performs onstage at the Brixton Academy in south London during his Let Love Rule 2009 European tour, Wednesday, July 1, 2009.
Three U.S. cabinet secretaries fanned out across the country Tuesday to promote healthier lifestyles, especially among the nation's exercise- but not necessarily snack-starved youth.

"The cities have got to set aside (safe) places for kids to get outside and walk or even ride their bicycles," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who promoted nutrition and exercise at the Penn-Alexander School, a public-private model school in West Philadelphia.

Thompson announced that 22 communities, from American Indian tribes to church-based groups to public school districts, will share "Healthier U.S." grants totaling $37.5 million. The funding is designed to promote disease-prevention or management programs, ranging from after-school health clubs in Philadelphia to smoking-cessation programs for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

Nine million schoolchildren in the United States are overweight, three times the number in 1980, according to a new report by Action for Healthy Kids, a coalition started by former U.S. surgeon general David Satcher.

In Minnesota — like Pennsylvania, a battleground state in the presidential race — Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Tuesday announced $2.8 million in "Healthier U.S." grants for that state at a school in Woodbury, a Twin Cities suburb.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, meanwhile, trumpeted the cause in Cleveland, Ohio, another state that President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry are working hard to win.

Although students were mindful of the Nov. 2 election — one Philadelphia youngster asked Thompson which man he supported, while another asked if he was a Democrat — Thompson denied the check presentations were politically timed.

"It has nothing to do with the election," he said after the event, where he shared the stage with injured Philadelphia Eagles defensive end N.D. Kalu and four Eagles cheerleaders.

"Our culture has changed over the last few decades," Carmona said Wednesday on CBS News' The Early Show. "Children have become more sedentary, school districts eliminate physical activity, indiscriminate eating, families have changed, a lot of single-parent families, children being less supervised, schools with different menus — a lot of factors over a change of several decades."

There are 9 million overweight children in the U.S., Carmona told co-anchor Julie Chen, and more children have diabetes and hypertension.

"This is a trend that's catastrophic if we don't stop it, because these children grow up to be overweight sick adults, at a huge cost to society and loss of quality of life," he said.

In Raleigh, N.C., Education Secretary Rod Paige tossed a beach ball with students as he announced that Wake County schools received $1.3 million in grants over three years for health and fitness programs.

That money came from President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative, Paige said. The school system is the only recipient of such funding in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Democratic Party criticized Paige's visit, saying Mr. Bush has hurt disadvantaged children by under-funding No Child Left Behind.

Philadelphia groups received $2 million in funding this year from the "Healthier U.S." program, of which $190,000 will go to the Philadelphia School District. The district hopes to use some of the money to start pilot health clubs for children at risk for asthma, diabetes or obesity at 25 schools.

Other programs in Pennsylvania were to share another $1 million in "Healthier U.S." grants this year, the department said.

Families USA, a health consumer advocacy group, said the $35.7 million pales in comparison to health care cuts the Bush administration has made, including $1.1 billion in unspent funding for state Children's Health Insurance Programs that the president plans to rescind on Thursday.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is among those criticizing President Bush for his plans to redirect the money, rather than extend the Sept. 30 deadline for states to spend it.

HHS spokesman Bill Pierce said the money will go toward a new state CHIP program that the president has proposed called "Covering the Kids," which will involve outreach efforts to identify more uninsured children.