Better childhood nutrition needed, retired military officials say
September 21st, 2010
04:10 PM ET

Better childhood nutrition needed, retired military officials say

Military leaders along with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged Congress to pass child nutrition legislation by September 30.

The Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 would boost the nutritional value of school meals by using more fruits and vegetables and by eliminating junk food, such as the ones found in school vending machines. The Senate version passed in August, and now it’s left to the House of Representatives, which would need to pass its version before the legislation expires September 30. The House is expected to take up the re-authorization before the deadline, since the bill has passed out of committee with bipartisan support.

More than 100 retired generals and admirals signed a letter to Congress describing the child nutrition bill as crucial to reducing childhood obesity and helping national security, by creating a pool of young adults who qualify for military service.

“Obesity is now the leading medical reason why young Americans today are unable to qualify for the armed forces. At least 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to enlist,” their letter read.

The group of retired military leaders, called Mission Readiness issued a report earlier this year, describing how more than a quarter of young adults are unable to meet physical requirements to join the military, creating a potential threat to national security.

Ex-military leaders: Young adults 'too fat to fight'

“Turning the tide of obesity in this country will not be an easy task,” the letter stated.  “Certainly, there is no single action that we as a nation can take to remedy this problem. However, it is clear that one immediate step we must take is to improve the quality and nutritional value of food and beverages served in our schools.”

Advocates say that as much as 40 percent of a child’s daily caloric intake occurs at school, so these foods should be nutritious to produce a healthy generation.

“We believe schools are a critical place to address the obesity issue,” said retired Rear Admiral James A Barnett, Jr. of the U.S. Navy in a news conference Tuesday.  “Millions buy food and snacks at schools everyday.”

The group says improving nutrition in the nation’s schools is a critical step to combat obesity among the youth.  Military leaders made a similar push in 1945, when concerns about poor nutrition in potential recruits resulted in the creation of a national school lunch program.

Vilsack said there needs to be a better job of promoting “vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy, whole grains” and “getting sugar, sodium, fat content out of the meals.  There needs to be a consistent message between what’s in the lunch line and vending machines. This is very important bill and we’re close to getting it done.  We need Congress to act.”

soundoff (76 Responses)
  1. Jrad

    I really doubt providing school children a 'healthy lunch' will eliminate the obesity epidemic. It's not their lunches which are making them fat, it's the 8 hours of TV/Video games, the bag of doritos, and the 6-pack of soda after school which are making children obese. Sure, the healthy lunch is a step in the right direction, but more intervention (from parents, not the government) is needed.

    September 21, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dawn

      No one said it would eliminate it.
      This is just one small step in the attempt to treat the problem. No one is expecting this to be a cure.

      September 21, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      I wholeheartedly agree, but when I look back at what I was served in school I see much room for improvement. Our vending machines were turned off during lunch and in middle school, the principal would even inspect lunches brought from home and confiscate candy or soda. But the food the school served was disgusting and not healthy. Stale chips and greasy cheese sauce, deep-fried "crispitos," etc. Veggies were soft and droopy. I still won't eat canned veggies because of this. Fresh fruit and yogurt were occasionally made available. For an extra cost. So those on reduced-cost or free lunch programs couldn't get them.

      September 21, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
    • sdfsd

      in the 70's/80's we had the same crap – frozen processed foods reconstituted. total junk. Most of the time I had a bagged lunches, so did my friends. School lunch was usually for those on welfare (free lunch). But at the same time my lunch might contain doritos. Lunch was not a major meal though, breakfast & dinner were and those were provided by my parents and they were healthy. I think it has way more to do with what goes on at home. But totally eliminating the worst of the worst in school lunches such as sugary sodas, juices loaded with syrup, fat loaded pizza/fries/nuggets and empty carbs like mac & cheese, will certainly help especially if parents are lazy at home and do the Taco Bell thing every night. We have to start somewhere.

      September 21, 2010 at 18:18 | Report abuse |
    • ljcjec

      Jrad, I partially agree with what you are saying, but the school lunch program and snacks given at school are not helping any either. In my daughter's school, junky snacks are actively marketed to the children. The lunch lady reminds them everyday how much money they have in their snack accounts and asks them what kind of snack they want in addition to their school lunch. The choices offered consist of greasy chips, sugary drinks, ice cream, cookies, etc. For this reason, I never put money in my daughter's snack account even though it can also be used to buy milk when she packs lunch. She complains that she is the only kid in her class that doesn't get snacks with lunch. Add this to the fact that every school sponsored event involves serving of sugary snacks and the kids are rewarded in the classroom with more candy and sugar and it is easy to come to the conclusion that schools are a huge part of the problem. We have my daughter in extremely strenuous extracurricular sports for 15 hours a week, she gets dessert only once a week at home. She is thin and muscular, but puts on weight very quickly during week-long breaks from her sports schedule. I can assure you that her tendency to gain weight has nothing to do with what we are doing at home. No Doritos or junk food in my house. While I am not a huge fan of regulation either, I don't like the idea that the schools are making tons of money from marketing junk food to easy targets (children who have limited self-control) when their parents aren't around to help them with appropriate choices. All of the laws involving authority of schools over children are based on the concept that teachers and administrators act in the place of parents in the parents' absence. It is irresponsible to be in a role of that kind and allow the kind of excessive eating that goes on in many schools.

      September 22, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      So, are you saying that since one step will not cure the problem, we shouldn't bother?

      September 22, 2010 at 11:35 | Report abuse |
  2. Blair

    People say kids won't eat healthy foods. They are 100% wrong. I have seen it with my own eyes. When elementary children are presented with fresh, healthy food (home style and salad bar), not only will they eat it, they will rave about it. It has to taste good though. You can't give them a dried out chicken breast with a slimy side of cooked broccoli.

    September 21, 2010 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sdfsd

      Well stated, but it gets complex & expensive when not only "fresh," but "good prep" are involved. Back to idea 1, take responsibility for your own kid and send him w/ a bagged lunch. Or I guess on busy days maybe some kids could afford a 6-8 dollar gourmet meal.

      September 21, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • leikela

      I would have loved to send my kids homemade lunches. But the principal of our last school would do inspections and take anything out that might cause an allergic reaction to somebody else. No PB and J ( and I make our own PB and J), no refrid. food, no food that wasn't sealed properly. I finally just took my kids out of school because of the food nazi who got kickbacks for school lunch sales.

      September 21, 2010 at 23:34 | Report abuse |
    • jm

      Yum slimy Broccoli.

      September 21, 2010 at 23:59 | Report abuse |
  3. TEisha

    i am happy the govt is lookin for solutions to fight and battle the epidemic of childhood obesity. When i was in school, we did not eat proceesed food and we did not have vending machines.

    September 21, 2010 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Not a Harvard Grad

    Of course kids need better nutrition.................don't need a BLOG to tell me this.. NEWSFLASH...Sun will set in the west and rise in the east.....

    September 21, 2010 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dur

    This is a nice idea... if they fund it. Considering how little schools are alloted per student per lunch, I am suprised they manage to feed them any type of meal, nutritious or not. Fresh produce doesn't come cheap.

    September 21, 2010 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply

      Healthy food IS actually the same price if not CHEAPER than what is currently served. Lots of misinformation out there.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse |
  6. Kate

    Kids need the education in a fun manner and parents need it even more. If the parents only supply their kids with healthy options and make it fun and relevant then their kids have no choice but to eat healthier. This is a serious problem and needs a solution and fast. http://Www.diet-myths.com has great info on weight loss

    September 21, 2010 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mary

    There is a rural school district near here that has one elementary school where the levels of poverty mirror those of many inner-city districts. Until recently, each school in that district had individual food service. The cooks in that particular school made sure that those children had a good breakfast and a healthy, homestyle, substantial lunch, and they did it on a shoestring by peeling fresh potatoes, working with local growers to get the best prices on eggs, meat, and the freshest produce, and baking from scratch. The meals may not always have been perfectly balanced, but those "lunch ladies" sure tried, and made sure that no one went hungry, even if they went to bed without dinner. And the kids ate it, including the green beans and buttered carrots. Then, to make sure that the menus met the requirements of federal child nutrition guidelines and to save money, the district went to a centralized food service system, which means, of course, that now those children are fed a steady diet of frozen french fries, pizza, chicken nuggets, instant mashed potatoes, frozen burritoes, etc. , with sides of broccoli and something called "kids munchie mix" that fill the cafeteria trash cans. It seems that this nation has lost all common sense (and I'm a Democrat, so don't accuse me of sounding like a tea-partier for the common sense comment).

    September 21, 2010 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sdfsd

      that's a truly sad story and very believable

      September 21, 2010 at 18:23 | Report abuse |
    • ender8305

      I fully plan on sending my kids to school with lunches. I remember what was servied in my school (15 years ago) and it wasn't plesant then, i can only immagine what it's like now with all the budget cuts. Nachos, fhrenchfries, frozen milkshakes, frozen lemonaide and giant cookies... Fruit was rare, and the veggies always limp and just gross... Although if they are starting to patrol the lunchroom to take away PP&J i'm screwed. Its one of the only sandwiches that will not spoil in a non-refridgerated lunch bag stuffed in a locker all morning.

      September 22, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
  8. Holly

    Changing the food in the cafeterias would be a start but to some degree I would caution against that. Although the food that the children get is not nutrituous in anyway; sometimes its the only meal the child would get all day long. Many children fill up at lunch time so that their hunger isn't as prominent at night. Although the food is bad–it's filling. Growing up my family didn't have alot of money so my mom had to buy pasta and other filling foods that may not have been good for us, but at least we weren't hungry. As long as they replace the heavy food that fills the children up and not just with vegetables since the kids won't eat them. They really do need to take the pop and vending machines out of the schools though.

    September 21, 2010 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Celeste

    I can just imagine that the added fruits and veggies are going to be that canned crap. In my opinion there is no faster way to turn kids off from vegitables than canned green beans and peas that have been soaking in a vat of water for a few hours. Even canned fruit isn't the greatest. But what school district can afford good well-cooked fresh veggies (other than the rich suburban schools)?

    September 21, 2010 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Robnorth

    Eliminate the obscene subsidies on corn and meat. That would make foods made with high-fructose corn syrup more expensive.

    Instead, give the subsidies to growers of fresh produce. If a salad were cheaper than a Big Mac (instead of the other way around), you'd see things change fairly quickly.

    September 21, 2010 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lovesgoodfood

      Well said! Sugar does not get anywhere near the subsidy that corn does...i also wonder how much money goes into R&D of all of these chemicals that go into our food and/or how to process it. Surely it has to be cheaper to just grow the food and cook it in its natural state!

      September 22, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
  11. LunchMommy

    A good school lunch program would give some dignity and some professionalism to the "lunch lady" job–planning menus and cooking fresh meals. Heck, I would be a lunch lady if that's what I got to do and got paid a decent salary for it. Not only does the healthier food cost money, but you have to pay the people who cook it. You'll definitely need more lunch room staff, not to mention breakfast which most schools serve these days, also. It's easy to arrange prepackaged food with 1-2 people. It takes many more to pull off a lunch service for hundreds of kids. I'm all for a plan like this if there is funding.

    September 21, 2010 at 22:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Cynical Randy

    A bigger problem than a "nutrition program" is the removal of physical education from schools. It used to be mandatory, just as proficiency in math, english and literature were. Now we've got a generation of lard a$$ XBoxers and everyone seems surprised!! Kids don't even get outside much anymore because parents rely on TV and game consoles as babysitters and electronic parents. A kid should have to run the 440 in a "normal" amount of time during middle and high school. Teach these kids that exercise is key with GOOD nutrition for quality of life....unless they all wanna die before they're 50.

    September 22, 2010 at 02:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dom625

      I completely agree with you on this one. When I was in middle and high school, we had actual PE classes where we were expected to go to the locker room, change into gym clothes, and actually *do* stuff. We played soccer, basketball, kickball, and ran track. And we did it everyday, whether it was blazing hot or freezing cold. And it was required every year; we could not graduate without those PE credits. Then again, we weren't worried about boat loads of mandatory state testing either.

      September 22, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      Not every kid can get A's in PE, just like not every kid gets A's in Math. In fact, most kids in AP classes are not strong athletes, they have to focus on their studies; but those AP classes don't have more overweight kids than any other class.
      In our school district lunches served in schools are pretty good, but most kids choose to throw veggies in the garbage and head straight to snacks. Schools don't teach them to do that, it's parents' responsibility to provide healthy food at home at very young age, so when kids get older they can enjoy salads, broccoli, whole grain bread without being told.

      September 22, 2010 at 10:54 | Report abuse |
    • dom625

      Our PE grades came being properly dressed-out and participating. We were also graded on improvement in physical fitness throughout the year. The PE teachers realized that all kids are different in athletic ability so we were not compared with other kids, only with ourselves. So it didn't matter if we weren't star athletes.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
  13. nick mazzei

    the best

    September 22, 2010 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. nick mazzei


    September 22, 2010 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. nick mazzei


    September 22, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

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      September 22, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse |
  16. stupidfacebookads

    If low income/high obesity areas put as much or more focus on teaching life skills than college prep courses, I believe we would see an improvement in overall quality of life for those students and their families. Poverty and obesity are linked and the- no child left behind – cram test answers into brains – model isn't breaking the cycle. These kids need daily p.e., etiquette (!) and home ec classes from preschool and kindergarten through 12th grade along with trade skill training starting in jr high or high school.

    September 22, 2010 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Karon

    The photograph looks more appetizing then the school lunches where I come from. There the lunch consisted of a ketchup packet – vegetable, a piece of bread, a soy hamburger patty, and milk. There's your full balanced meal. Personally, it's not enough to keep a growing child from starving, especially when most of the children were receiving free or reduced price lunches. I called the state for an investigation many times, but no answers.

    September 22, 2010 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Catie

    My son came home the other day. "Mommy, I had a fresh plumb on my tray and all the bread is wheat now!" Thank you Michelle Obama if you had anything to do with this! I have been whining to officials for years. It is imperative that our children be fed well in order to learn well.
    But, on the same note, please dont limit the restaurants in my city from their yummy fattening sugary menus. That is the occassional treat we go out for, after eating right all week !!

    September 22, 2010 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dum-as-Dirt

    Wait a minute.... What does this have to do with Reform School? Oh. Never mind...

    September 22, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tasha

    This is something Ihave just started to wonder about
    SINCE: There seems to be evidence linking too little sleep with obesity
    AND: there is mounting evidence that light pollution can interfere with sleep
    QUESTION: could the growing light pollution in this country be one oft the contributing factors to the obesity epidemic?

    September 22, 2010 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Merewyn

    Part of the problem is that school lunches also tend to be unappetizing, causing kids to want to eat junk food instead. Focus on not just providing a healthy meal, but one that tastes good and doesn't mirror toxic waste.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. The_Mick

    What angers me about the frequent articles we see about school nutrition is that it assumes all schools are bad. In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, all 12 high schools and the feeder Middle and Elementary schools are all administered by a team of award-winning trained nutritionists and the food has been nutritionally first-rate for at least a couple decades. And guess what? The kids are STILL becoming obese because they do NOT exercise! As my high school's cross country coach, I instituted a program for overweight kids to walk or run at least three miles per day, every day for 16 weeks. EVERY kid who stuck with the program lost significant weight but FEW of them modified their diets. The huge portions we're being fed today don't help, but it's more a lack of activity that's fattening us up!

    September 22, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • KS

      I agree wholeheartedly with The_Mick on this. My mother has been working in the cafeteria I went to middle school and has been working there for ten years. They serve outstanding breakfasts AND lunches and make everything fresh daily. Not every school serves these rumored terrible lunches, just like not every school is top notch, putting out A+ students and award winners. There are several other issues that are equally, if not more, to blame. Especially – as mentioned – the lack of activity in children and everyone in general.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:30 | Report abuse |
  23. Lisa

    I have serious issues with any bill that originated in the military wanting a better pool of recruits. I agree that childhood obesity is an issue for many reasons. NONE of which has to do with recruitment and drafting.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply

    First off that ignorant person saying that "If low income/high obesity areas put as much or more focus on teaching life skills than college prep courses" – obviously our school system and your parents failed you. Obesity is not linked to nor limited to low income areas, unfortunately there are plenty of middle class, rich, educated people who are FAT. An apple is much cheaper than a bag of chips. What is taught in schools is not in direct correlation to obesity. Some life skills could do you some good. We live in a FREE country not some ancient cast system as you are suggesting. Go do some reading and watch some real news besides the mainstream commercialized junk – you are truly misinformed and uneducated.
    What trailer did you fall out of?

    September 22, 2010 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marius

      unfortunatly, simply sauecbe they can. Also anti-social behaviour is seen as a badge of honour amongst some people. It's unfortunate, but respect of other peoples things (including digital content) is not a priority for a LOT of people. Was this answer helpful?

      April 14, 2012 at 14:55 | Report abuse |

    Kids who receive free or reduced school lunches ARE NOT on welfare. Most are just poor with working parents.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. DP

    You won't reform school lunches without understanding why they are unhealthy. The lunches are clearing houses for corn and soy products. Kids aren't being served chocolate and strawberry milk because they're more likely to drink it if it's sweet. They're being served that because it has HFCS and the corn lobby is powerful.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Adam

    This is absolutely ridiculous! This is just one giant step in the direction of an American Nanny State – so we are going to make all these laws that is going to eat away at a school's budget (wait, wasn't there just an article that was talking about no jobs for teacher's – ironic) – Oh it won't, b/c the government will pay for it – great so increase the tax burden. When will the citizens rise up and say enough is enough – we don't need the government to solve stupid basic commonsense problems for us! The responsibility is ours – if you're a parent, do your job and set limits on television and video games – don't stock your cubboards with junk food and take a proactive stance in your home.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply

      This article isn't about parenting, it's about the poor quality of school lunch. Whether you pay for the lunch or not there is nothing available at the cafeterias that is edible or healthy. I didn't eat the food as a child and I wouldn't have my children eat it. There needs to be reform. Students and school employees don't have much choice, either you eat what they serve, bring your own, or go hungry.

      September 22, 2010 at 15:52 | Report abuse |
  28. Dr Jorge Delgado Pauta

    Artificial sweeteners are a serious health problem for the world's population, causing various cancers, Alzheimer's and a number more than osteo-articular diseases, under the pretext of its cheap cost.

    Therefore, it is personal responsibility, family reading labels for the content of prefabricated foods are also added dyes, chemical stabilizers.

    Saccharin: 300 to 400 times sweeter than cane sugar
    ASPARTAME: 180 to 200 times
    Acesulfame K: 200 times
    SUCRALASA: 600 times
    Cyclomatic: 30 to 60 times

    September 22, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Tom

    how about their parents fund the bill and send them to school with a lunch like everyone else's did for years....this is wasteful spending and it is crushing California for example

    September 22, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Kelly

    I went to a technical high school. I was in the culinary arts program and saw what went into the lunches. We used fresh ingridients(veggies, fruits, grains, meats). The only time we had frozen was when we reheated leftovers on fridays. Not all high schools are evil

    September 22, 2010 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paula

      Ma come potete rseese cos sospettosi? Voglio dire pu rseese mai che facciano un picchiaduro con solo 4 personaggi? come minimo ci saranno tutti i principali protagonisti e antagonisti, come Splinter, Shredder, Rockseady e Beebop (spero), Testa di Cuoio (il mio mito)e chiss chi altro! Io sono fiducioso, e non vedo l'ora che escha!

      April 14, 2012 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
  31. Vic

    While I think child obesity is a problem, I find this group's numbers to be HIGHLY suspect. Where are they getting these statistics from? Sounds like another DC lobbyist group playing fast and loose with the numbers. I'd like to see where the Dept of Defense or Pentagon has this information about people being rejected listed, and where the study that says school lunches will actually impact military enrollment. Seems like a very big stretch.

    September 23, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. deeniecedede

    Listen America! I don't care what you make, if it doesn't taste good the kids won't eat it. That's enough said about that. Now let's talk about school lunch. The menu at my daughter's school changed from fried frozen "entrees" to raw vegetables and hummus. So as a school volunteer this is what I see. Ninety-five percent of the kids throw their lunch in the garbage, including my daughter who comes home starving everyday. Changing the menu was kind of like changing seats on the Titanic. There's still nothing to eat! The kids in my daughter's school do not eat hummus, guacamole, gazpaucho (is that how you spell it), or raw vegetables. The kids are just regular Americans. My daughter and her friends at school love vegetables, meat and potatoes. Remember those? Good fresh food. And don't tell me the lunch program can't afford to have cooks anymore. I see the money that's wasted on all the "healthy" food (that the kids won't eat). I am fifty-one years old and went to a public school, and to this day I can remember the school lunches served by the ladies with the hair nets on.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bad Patient

      That's bs. True that it's not nutritious if they don't eat it...but in this case...there's no nutrition in there anyway so same thing. They would have been better off if they didn't eat the corn, and dumb down their brain.

      October 2, 2010 at 18:55 | Report abuse |
    • Bad Patient

      They are starving because there's no nutrition in there. Nutrients were taken out (possibly sold separately). This is NOT food. That's why they are still hungry. They need real food. Real vegetables. (We might do better if it was a grass feedstock instead of corn...not sure. worth checking out though.)

      October 2, 2010 at 18:57 | Report abuse |
    • Nitin

      miguel non so se sei sveglio!! non pui gudiicare dagli sreenshoot! traggono sempre in inganno. mi ricordo mp3,dalle immagini sembrava un gioco da n64. vediti dei trailer e dimmi se non rimani a bocca aperta, delle cose che non pensavo potessero mai entrare su wii.allora ho capito una cosa:non la nostra povera console a essere poco potente, sono state le terze parti a infangare il nome del wii con grafiche schifose. basta metterci un p di duro lavoro e anche il wii ci diventa "next-gen"(solo graficamente, perch il wii molto pi next-gen,di qualsiasi altra console)

      April 8, 2012 at 21:00 | Report abuse |
  33. Bad Patient

    Thank God someone is saying it. How can our kids even think straight with all of the corn in their diet. It's like chemical warfare on our kids. MAKE THEM STOP IT! (Thank YOU!)

    October 2, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 8, 2012 at 01:47 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.