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Posts tagged: health

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 http://www.ers.usda.gov/foodatlas/

Elise Golan, USDA’s Economic Research Service egolan@ers.usda.gov

Resolved: A Food-Safe 2010

It’s that time of year again, when we all make promises to “do better” or “do more” in the new year. These may include getting more exercise, doing more reading, or eating better. But one of the most important resolutions for you and your family is to improve food safety in your home and workplace. 

Here are just a few food safety resolutions for 2010:

  • Buy a food thermometer. You’ve been told to do it. You’ve thought about it. This year, do it. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know if meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe temperature. You can’t tell just by looking at the color.
  • Use appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer. The temperature in the refrigerator should be below 40 degrees F; the freezer should be 0 degrees F or below.  These settings ensure food stays out of the “Danger Zone” where bacteria multiply.
  • Do not leave pizza sitting out for longer than two hours. Foods that sit out for more than two hours at room temperature–or 1 hour if the room or outdoor temperature is over 90 degrees F–can support bacteria growth.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not sure if your food has been sitting out too long, throw it away.  Remember, your health is worth more than the cost of any food you try to save.
  • Keep your hands clean. This cannot be stressed enough. Clean hands prevent the transfer of bacteria to other surfaces or food items and prevent the spread of germs. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after preparing food, using the bathroom, changing diapers and touching pets.
  • Toss leftovers and take-out or ready-to-eat foods that have been sitting in your refrigerator for four days or longer.
  • Don’t get rid of old leftovers or take-out food by feeding it to your pets! Pets can get foodborne illness just as we can. If you shouldn’t eat it, then your pet shouldn’t eat it either.

Make this New Year a safe one by promising to follow proper food handling, preparation and storage practices. This is one resolution it’s important to keep all year—for yourself and your family.

If you have food safety questions, you can contact “Ask Karen,” our virtual representative, at www.askkaren.gov; call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline and speak to a live representative at 1-888-674-6854, TTY: 1-800-256-7027; or type a question on our “Live Chat” site at http://askkaren.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/askkaren.cfg/php/enduser/chat.php. Visit www.foodsafety.gov for safety information on all types of foods.

USDA to Sponsor Web-Based Nutrition Gaming Contest in Support of the President’s Open Government Initiative

Today we announced the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, which supports the President’s Open Government Initiative by holding a national contest that will promote healthier dietary habits among children.

“The Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge highlights the Obama Administration’s commitment to combating childhood obesity and improving the nutritional health of America’s youth,” said Vilsack. “We are excited to spur innovation by making it easier for high-tech companies and individuals to identify collaborative, entrepreneurial opportunities. Those who participate in this challenge will be important partners in helping our kids make smarter choices about the foods they eat.”

USDA released a dataset with 1,000 of the most common food items as well as open source codes from USDA nutrition resources to enable development of a Web-based learning application that incorporates the USDA-generated dataset. This challenge is open to entrepreneurs, software developers and students to design a creative and educational game targeted to kids, especially “tweens”, aged 9-12. The dataset is available to the public on Data.gov and MyPyramid.gov.

The Web-based games will help motivate kids to learn about healthy dietary habits and the importance of eating more nutritional foods. Using the foods dataset, the game should be centered on educational messages that emphasize one or more key nutrition concepts from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid Food Guidance System.

The FNCS Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion will begin accepting fully developed Web-based games in the spring of 2010 that will be judged by a panel of public and private sector nutrition and gaming experts. The Popular Choice winner will be selected based on public votes, so stay tuned for more information.

Additional details will be posted at MyPyramid.gov as they are available. The dataset containing more than 1,000 commonly eaten foods and the open source code used for MyFood-a-pedia and the MyPyramid Menu Planner are available on the Website.

For examples of USDA-developed nutrition games and resources, visit the MyPyramid Blast Off Game, My Pyramid Menu Planner, and MyFood-a-pedia. For detailed information about the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, go to MyPyramid.gov.

Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge

Happy Leftovers Day!

We hope you had a joyful (and food-safe) holiday meal. We suspect that like most of us you’ll be enjoying the goodies for days to come.

One highlight of our run-up to the holiday was our live Facebook chat on food safety on Nov. 12. USDA food safety expert Diane Van took questions on a variety of topics, but there were quite a few about handling leftovers.

A sampling of Diane’s answers that will help you stay food-safe for some folks’ favorite meals of the holiday season:

  • Put your food away within two hours of serving it. Don’t leave it out on a buffet longer than that to pick at!
  • Store the leftovers in small, shallow containers so they cool quickly.
  • Store the turkey and stuffing separately.
  • Reheat leftovers until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F or until the food is hot and steaming.
  • Eat leftovers within three to four days – use gravy within one to two days. If you have more than you can eat within that period, freeze as soon as possible.
  • When frozen to 0 degrees F, leftovers will keep for two to six months for the best quality. That’s right: Your Thanksgiving leftovers can keep at least … the Super Bowl.

For more information on safe handling of leftovers, you can listen to our “Safe Handling of Leftovers” podcast. You can read the script here.

If you have other questions about handling leftovers—or any aspect of food safety—you can check in with USDA’s Ask Karen virtual representative at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Ask_Karen.  The question-and-answer service is available 24/7.

You can also call USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. It’s open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Expert staff can take questions on any food safety topic.