This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research profile.
How many of us have said this–”Yeah, I could definitely stand to lose a few pounds”–usually with a self-deprecating chuckle?
In reality, obesity is no laughing matter in the United States. Did you know that an obese person spends over $1,530 more per year on health care than a person with normal weight spends according a 2010 report by the Congressional Budget Office? Rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. have more than tripled in the past 30 years, and rates of adult obesity have doubled in that time.
Obesity is a complex issue with no simple solution. We need preventive nutrition and physical activity strategies with proven efficacy to reduce the incidence of obesity and related chronic diseases and lower health care costs. To meet this goal, USDA’s Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area has developed a strategy to combat obesity, focused on research, development, education, and extension. As part of USDA’s Office of the Chief Scientist series of white papers on the Department’s research portfolio, this approach aligns USDA’s nutrition research with the goals of President Obama’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign.
The REE mission area agencies are actively contributing to solutions to this problem in collaboration with other governmental, nonprofit and private entities as well as other USDA agencies such as the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and the Food and Nutrition Service. Working with partners to help Americans make healthy choices, USDA contributes efforts to improve access to healthy foods at farmers markets, bring more locally sourced, fresh fruits and vegetables into school cafeterias, promote a balanced diet with MyPlate, and highlight the importance of becoming more physically active.
REE’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has increased its obesity research from less than 10 percent of its human nutrition program in 2004 to more than 30 percent in 2012. ARS conducts its human nutrition research primarily at six internationally recognized human nutrition research centers across the country.
As the primary source of economic information and research within USDA, REE’s Economic Research Service recently updated the Food Environmental Atlas, allowing users to find the nearest grocery stores, food and nutrition assistance programs, and food prices to locate healthy, affordable food.
The mission area’s only extramural research agency, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), awards research grants to support programs that strengthen community efforts against childhood obesity. Whether it’s the Children’s Healthy Living Program for Remote Underserved Minority Populations in the Pacific Region or the Healthy Kids-Houston program, NIFA and its Land-Grant University System partners strive to reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents.
Working together, the REE agencies contribute to solving the problems of obesity and poor nutrition by linking food systems with beneficial human health outcomes; strengthening nutrition monitoring of the American population and evaluating policies that influence nutritional health; providing a sound scientific basis for dietary guidance to promote health and reduce the risk of disease throughout a person’s lifetime, and developing and extending approaches to prevent obesity and related diseases.
Just as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight requires a multi-pronged approach integrating diet, physical activity and lifestyle, helping America address its obesity problem depends on collaboration and cooperation among USDA agencies, and the REE agencies are already playing an essential part in this crucial endeavor.