Lady Ag Ag

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Earlier this year, Dr. Kathleen Merrigan was recognized as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time magazine.

"I didn't believe it at first. But when I made the list if was feeling pretty self-important," said Merrigan. "There was President Obama and Steve Jobs on the list. But then I also noticed that Lady Gaga was on the list. So now at the office, I'm known as Lady Ag Ag."

Merrigan was in Boise Tuesday to give the keynote address at the Idaho Summit on Hunger and Food Insecurity. Merrigan is the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She oversees the day-to-day operation of USDA's many programs and spearheads the $149 billion USDA budget process.

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A packed ballroom at Boise's Doubletree Riverside listened to some sobering facts on hunger:
-Child poverty rose to 19.7 percent in Idaho in 2009, up from 15.6 percent.
-Idaho is ranked as the 29th hungriest state by the USDA.
-Idaho is ranked as 15th worst for having seniors at risk of hunger.
-There has been a 29 percent increase in emergency food distribution in Idaho.

"We have a growing problem of something called food deserts," Merrigan told Citydesk. "A food desert is an area where typically low-income people have further than a mile or two to travel to a grocery store without public transport. We have too many people buying their food in convenience stores or gas stations, paying more money for less quality food."

Merrigan told Citydesk about a new Internet tool called the Food Environment Atlas, where food access issues can be identified by region or city.

Merrigan said it's equally important to access healthy food than to simply access higher quantities of food.

"One in three children born in the U.S. in 2001 will develop diabetes," cautioned Merrigan. "That's if food trends in this country don't change. The health-care costs will cripple our nation if we don't change our food environment."

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