Today, as we mark the beginning of National Nutrition Month and the start of National School Breakfast Week, and throughout this month, USDA will be highlighting the work of our programs and partner organizations that support a healthier next generation by improving childhood nutrition and reducing obesity, supporting healthy families, enhancing food access, ensuring food security, promoting local markets, and providing science-based nutrition information and guidance for individuals and policy makers.
Through our nutrition assistance programs, support for farmers and ranchers, and our food safety and regulatory programs, USDA is working hard to ensure that all Americans have access to safe, affordable, healthy food. The Agricultural Act of 2014 (a.k.a. “the Farm Bill”) which was passed by Congress a little over a month ago, as well as the Healthy Hunger-free Kid’s Act of 2010 enable us to continue making progress in this area, and support the health of our nation’s families.
USDA administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that work together to form the nation’s food insecurity safety net, so that no American has to go hungry:
· The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps millions of Americans put food on the table. Today, in the journal Pediatrics, independent researchers found that participation in SNAP was associated with significant improvements in food insecurity in children. Through programs such as the Healthy Incentives Pilot and grants to increase access to SNAP at farmers markets, USDA is working to increase healthy food access for low-income families.
· The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and supplemental foods to infants, young children, and pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women to improve health outcomes and support healthy childhood development. Last week, USDA announced an update to the foods provided through the WIC program to include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
· Each day, nearly 31 million children participate in USDA-supported school meal programs. As a result of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, those meals are now healthier, with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, with less fat, sodium and sugar. Last week, in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama, USDA announced enhancements to the school wellness environment, including liming marketing of unhealthy foods and increased access to free meals for low-income students.
· Through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, USDA is able to support American farmers, ranchers, and producers, by purchasing commodity products for distribution to low-income families through food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries across the country. In Fiscal Year 2013, USDA provided over 637 million pounds of domestically-grown and produced food through this program.
· Commodity products are also distributed through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). Over 655,000 people in low-income households rely on this program for wholesome food each month.
Collectively these programs help combat the twin epidemics of child hunger and obesity, and improve the health and nutrition of the nation’s children, a top priority for the Obama Administration.
Last week as she was marking the fourth anniversary of the Let’s Move! initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us that good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are critical not only for a child’s health, but also their academic achievement. Studies have found that students who consume breakfast make greater strides on standardized tests; more easily pay attention and are better behaved in class; and are less frequently tardy, absent or visiting the nurse’s office. Breakfast is positively linked with maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding health problems associated with obesity . School nutrition professionals are essential partners in our efforts to improve child nutrition, which is why we are happy to once again, partner with the School Nutrition Association, as they celebrate National School Breakfast Week, and remind us to Take Time for School Breakfast.
To join us in recognizing National Nutrition Month, and School Breakfast Week, join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and show us how you are promoting better nutrition and supporting a healthier next generation, using the hashtag #HealthierNextGen.
For more on childhood nutrition, check out these previous blogs: