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Let’s Move Outside All Summer Long

Unplug is a public service campaign of the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council.

Unplug is a public service campaign of the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council.

Summer is fast approaching but packing up the kids to head outside could be daunting, especially for those whose experience with outdoor activities is limited.

But don’t worry. With a little help and some simple planning, the whole crew will want to unplug and find activities that will invigorate not just the body, but the mind. The opportunities to show our kids how to eat healthy and be active can stay with them for a life time. Young children and the young at heart will enjoy summer days filled with picnics and outdoor barbecues that create great memories. Read more »

Creating a Healthier Next Generation and Supporting a Healthier School Day

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, students across America are being served meals with more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.  Parents can send their kids to school knowing that the healthy habits they teach at home are being reinforced at school, with breakfast and lunch menus that provide more of the foods we should eat, and less of the foods that we should avoid.

Parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, communities, and policy makers are working hard to make sure that school environments support a healthier next generation. Read more »

The Case for Rural Wealth Creation

Book cover: "Rural Wealth Creation" edited by John Pender, Bruce A. Weber, Thomas G. Johnson, J. Matthew Fannin

Book cover: "Rural Wealth Creation" edited by John Pender, Bruce A. Weber, Thomas G. Johnson, J. Matthew Fannin

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Economic Research Service (ERS) economists may not wear trench coats and fedoras, but we are investigating significant developments affecting rural America.  In a new book, Rural Wealth Creation, which I co-edited with Bruce Weber, Tom Johnson, and Matt Fannin, we examined the role of wealth, which includes physical, financial, human, natural, social and other forms of assets, in achieving sustainable rural prosperity.

Strong communities depend upon strong local and regional economies, and prosperous local and regional economies depend on the creation, retention, and distribution of wealth, broadly defined. Wealth contributes to people’s well-being in many ways beyond increasing income. For example, many forms of wealth can provide resilience in tough economic times or enhance the ability of rural people to pursue innovative new opportunities. Read more »

New International Wood Packaging Standard Stops Bugs Dead in their Tracks

Several hundred non-native forest insect species have become established in the U.S. Recent arrivals, such as this adult Asian longhorned beetle, have killed millions of trees and altered urban landscapes in the Northeast and Midwest. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Kenneth R. Law, courtesy of Bugwood.org)

Several hundred non-native forest insect species have become established in the U.S. Recent arrivals, such as this adult Asian longhorned beetle, have killed millions of trees and altered urban landscapes in the Northeast and Midwest. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Kenneth R. Law, courtesy of Bugwood.org)

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Wood makes great packaging material—it’s inexpensive, abundant and versatile—but there’s one drawback: destructive forest pests stowaway in the pallets, crates and dunnage (wood used to brace cargo) used in international shipping. Over many years, international trade has resulted in the inadvertent introduction of many non-native wood-feeding pests and plant pathogens in the U.S. and throughout the world. Some of these non-native insects, including the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle, have become highly invasive and caused serious environmental and economic impacts.

But an international standard for wood packaging material is slowing the inadvertent export of invasive bark- and wood-boring insects, according to a study conducted by Robert Haack, a research entomologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Lansing, Mich., and a team of scientists. Researchers found as much as a 52 percent drop in infestation rates in the U.S., where the standard was implemented in three phases between 2005 and 2006. The study was published May 14 in the journal PLOS ONE. Read more »

The Healthy Eating Index: How does America Score?

The Healthy Eating Index logo.

The Healthy Eating Index logo.

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Have you ever heard of the Healthy Eating Index? The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) measures the quality of Americans’ food choices. At USDA we use the HEI to see how closely Americans are following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate. The HEI assigns scores to diets on a scale in which the maximum score of 100 indicates that the diet meets all Dietary Guidelines recommendations. The HEI shows us that the diets of most Americans could use some improvement. For example, HEI scores for 2007-08 averaged about 53.5 points out of 100 points, and these scores have not changed substantially since 2001-02. Using the HEI we can also compare how food choices and overall diet quality differ among males and females and in certain age groups, such as HEI scores for children and adolescents.

The HEI includes 12 components, each of which measures one aspect of dietary quality. These components represent all of the key Dietary Guidelines food choice recommendations. Nine of the components focus on the types of foods that Americans should eat more of, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Three components focus on foods or nutrients that are over consumed and Americans should eat less of, including refined grains, sodium, and calories from solid fats and added sugars (empty calories). Read more »

The More Conservation for the Illinois and Macinaw Rivers – the Better

Tim Malone, center, is a NRCS district conservationist in Tazewell County, Ill. Here he leads a watershed tour. (NRCS photo)

Tim Malone, center, is a NRCS district conservationist in Tazewell County, Ill. Here he leads a watershed tour. (NRCS photo)

Rivers are special places, and for me, the Illinois and Macinaw rivers in central Illinois are my special places. Both rivers eventually send their waters to the Mississippi River, and the area provides habitat for wildlife as well as recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing.

But the rivers suffer from streambank erosion, soil erosion, sedimentation and nutrient runoff. We all hear about the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi, which is caused by high levels of nutrients in the water.

Water quality is important to me as a conservationist and motivates me as a conservationist. I am interested in conservation and wildlife habitat – both as a citizen that enjoys the outdoors as well as my job as a district conservationist in Tazewell County, Ill. with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »