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Posts tagged: health

Public Feedback and Comments Welcome on the New Advisory Committee Report on Dietary Guidance

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move Blog

By Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary

I’ve just received an important report about diet and health, and wanted to share with you some of what it says. The Advisory Report is from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and it is directed to me and to Secretary Sebelius at Health and Human Services. We will be using this report as the basis for finalizing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the end of the year. This report is a summary of the absolute best and most up-to-date science available, written by a group of 13 prominent independent experts in nutrition and health.

Their guidance is important because their recommendations provide the basis for important policy decisions related to the Food Pyramid, school meals, the WIC program, and other nutrition programs that USDA manages. The report highlights four major action steps for Americans to improve their diet and health:

The first is to reduce overweight and obesity by reducing overall calorie intake and increasing physical activity. The committee said that the obesity epidemic is the single greatest threat to public health in this century.

The second step is to eat more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, eat more seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

The third step is to cut out most added sugars and solid fats. Foods with added sugars and solid fats have unneeded calories and few, if any, nutrients. Also, to reduce sodium and eat fewer refined grains, especially desserts.

The final step is to “Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” This means to get up and move more—lots more! It is important for overall health and it helps burn calories to keep weight in balance.

How to put all of this advice together? The Committee identified several ways to build a total diet that meets nutrient needs, but stays within a person’s “calorie budget.”

The Advisory Committee was very concerned about the health of children—as we are at USDA. Obesity in children has tripled in the past 30 years, and we need to tackle that problem.

Between now and July 15, the public will have an opportunity to read and comment on the Advisory Report. You can find the report online. In early July we’ll also be holding a meeting here in Washington where the public can come provide oral testimony on the Advisory Report. We look forward to receiving and reviewing your comments. After evaluating your feedback, USDA and HHS will work together to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which we expect to release at the end of the year.

New Health Facility to Improve Quality of Life for Michigan Residents

Recently, I broke ground for the Center for Family Health’s New Health Center in Jackson, Michigan, along with Congressman Mark Schauer. Read more »

Indiana Students Show USDA How to Eat Healthy and Be Active in School

By Susie Stanfield, Fishers Elementary Physical Education Teacher, Fishers, IN (near Indianapolis)

We were really excited when USDA Food and Nutrition Deputy Administrator Audrey Rowe visited our school on Friday, May 21st. Students from Mrs. Trees’ 3rd grade class showed Ms. Rowe how fun it is to exercise in school by participating in a cardio/station activity focused on the “Indy 500 Race.” After class, everyone went to the cafeteria for lunch prepared by Tracy Huser, our cafeteria manager, and her staff. Ms. Rowe held a roundtable with parents, teachers, students, and our district administrators to discuss nutrition and school lunch options. We’re all hoping these ideas will help develop healthy eating habits for years to come and assist the next generation in fighting obesity and health problems.

Third graders in Fishers Elementary gym class.
Third graders in Fishers Elementary gym class.

Deputy Administrator Audrey Rowe joins the Fishers Elementary School lunch line.
Deputy Administrator Audrey Rowe joins the Fishers Elementary School lunch line.

Deputy Adminstrator Audrey Rowe enjoys lunch with third graders at Fishers Elementary School.
Deputy Adminstrator Audrey Rowe enjoys lunch with third graders at Fishers Elementary School.

Your Health, Our National Security

By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Today I joined U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and retired admirals and generals from the non-profit group, Mission: Readiness, to release the results of a study on obesity among young adults. The report delivered some disturbing news – more than 9 million young adults, age 17 to 24, are now too overweight to join the military.  But with this news comes opportunity and optimism to help our kids across the country to lead healthier lifestyles.

The Mission: Readiness group, which consists of more than 130 retired admirals, generals and other military leaders, has shown America that the obesity epidemic is threatening the nation’s security, and is calling on Congress to support the administration’s proposal of an increase of $1 billion per year for ten years for child nutrition programs.

As Congress debates reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, it is important to recognize the historical context and future impact this legislation will have on our nation – our economy, our national security, and our communities. Immediately after the World War II, our leaders understood the importance of investing in good nutrition to ensure that the country would never want for healthy, strong, young people to serve in uniform.  And so, in 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act – which formed the basis for the nutrition programs we still have in place today.

Fast forward 60 years and we are faced with a generation of young Americans that are not healthy or fit enough to serve their country as their forefathers have.  The Obama Administration and Mission Readiness stand united behind the following priorities for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act: get the junk food out of our schools; support increased funding to improve nutritional standards and the quality of meals served in schools; and provide more children access to effective programs that cut obesity.

This is a crisis that strikes at the core value of service to country and community. Let this study serve as a call to action for all Americans. What can you do to help your country? Get fit, get active, get healthy

Healthier Families and a Healthier Nation

USDA -  Ready to Move for a Healthier Generation

By Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

A call to action, a challenge for a generation, no matter what we call it, First Lady Michelle Obama’s announcement of the Let’s Move! initiative is an ambitious goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity. It is a goal that we take seriously here at USDA and we are prepared to dedicate our time, energy, and resources to achieving this goal.

Let's Move logoWe know the statistics: one in three children are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for diabetes and others chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. Access to nutritious food and proper education on healthy lifestyles are in need of improvement.

Here is a snapshot of what we are going to be working on at USDA to help the First Lady – but it is only a fraction of the full effort our Department will be implementing to reach the goals set forth.

Our Food and Nutrition programs will be working to serve healthier food in our schools. To do this, we will be working with Congress to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act and hopefully invest an additional $10 billion over ten years to improve the quality of the National School Lunch and Breakfast program, increase the number of kids participating, and ensure schools have the resources they need to make program changes. This means that children across the nation will have better access to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. These nutritious foods will be served in all school cafeterias and an additional one million students will be served through school lunch programs in the next five years.
We are also working with the First Lady to promote and double the number of schools participating in the Healthier US School Challenge, which establishes rigorous standards for schools’ food quality, participation in meal programs, physical activity, and nutrition education – the key components that make for healthy and active kids.

And USDA is embracing the latest technology and external stakeholders to help reach our goals. Our Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us, but it is a challenge we are ready to take on. Now is the time to make America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids.

Your Food Environment Atlas

As I write, the streets of D.C. are piled with snow, Federal government offices in the area are closed, and the city has come to a slip-sliding standstill.  Throughout the storm, my colleagues from USDA’s Economic Research Service have been working to get Your Food Environment Atlas up and running for the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity.  Working on this mapping tool, which measures a community’s food-choice landscape, has been particularly interesting as the piles of record snowfall continue to obscure our own food landscape.

I have always known that my food environment plays an important role in the types of foods I feed myself and my family. Never has this been more true: my family’s home is without power, the neighborhood streets are undrivable, and our food environment has been whittled down to the restaurants and ready-to-eat food establishments we can walk to and that still have food.  These few days have given me a taste for what many experience daily: limited cooking options and limited access to healthy foods.

For children in low-income families living in neighborhoods with few healthy food options, unhealthy diets may be an unavoidable reality of everyday life, not just snow-storm life.  For the thousands of children who are obese or overweight, this reality has serious health consequences.  In recognition of the toll the obesity epidemic is having on the health and well-being of our children, the First Lady has challenged the nation to move to end childhood obesity in a generation.  In recognition of the influences that the food environment has on diet quality, she has challenged researchers across government to examine the interaction of factors influencing food and lifestyle choices.

USDA’s Your Food Environment Atlas is an online mapping tool that compares the food environment of U.S. counties—the mix of factors that together influence food choices, diet quality, and general fitness among residents.  The Atlas contains 90 food environment indicators—most at the county level—allowing Atlas users to visualize and compare on a map how counties fare on each of the indicators. This new online tool is designed to stimulate research and inform policymakers as they address the nexus between diet and public health.

What can the Atlas tell us? Think about what the First Lady has said about the obstacles people often face in taking responsibility for adopting healthy habits of diet and fitness. Access, affordability, and convenience affect the ability to provide healthy meals for children and other household members. Proximity to full-service grocery stores affects both access and affordability, and it’s one of the many indicators the Atlas measures, including proximity among low-income residents. The Atlas shows the concentration of convenience food stores, fast-food establishments, full-service restaurants, and farmers’ markets in a county.

A variety of indicators measured in the Atlas specifically affect affordability. Examples are the price ratios of selected healthy foods to snack foods and even the price of low-fat milk. The food and financial needs among a county’s population are also part of the picture: data on these include median household income, poverty rates, and eligibility of residents for food programs like school lunches and SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program).

We can find information in the Atlas on per capita consumption of foods from both the healthy and not-so-healthy side of the diet ledger, including fruit and vegetables, soft drinks, and fats. And the Atlas measures some key health outcomes like diabetes and obesity rates.

Michelle Obama and others have emphasized the importance of exercise as well as healthy diets in curbing childhood obesity and promoting general fitness. Parks, playgrounds, and after-school sports can be sidelined if a community lacks funds. This is another area Your Food Environment Atlas addresses, with data that include counties’ recreation and fitness facilities, and natural amenities.

All of these components of a community’s food environment are just a sample of the 90 indicators the Atlas contains, covering demographic, health, and food access characteristics. While particularly useful to researchers, the Atlas is available to the general public on the ERS website. Anyone using this tool can, for example, create a map and compare counties by prevalence of adult diabetes, and then see how they compare in geographic access to grocery stores. And for each county, users can view all the county-level indicators that contribute to its food environment profile.

The data in Your Food Environment Atlas document the situations of real people in real communities. We hope this web tool will contribute to a national conversation on food choices and diet quality, and on some of the social and economic conditions to consider when searching for solutions to diet-related public health issues.

Your food Environment Atlas Screenshot
The Atlas is available on the web at

Elise Golan, USDA’s Economic Research Service