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Posts tagged: health

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 and

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 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

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  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.

Serving Those Who Serve America

This morning, I was privileged to represent USDA at a Military Families Summit hosted at the University of Maryland and organized with us by the Department of Defense Military Community and Family Policy program.  More than 300 leaders who provide support to military families – including the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, the National Guard and Reserve, land-grant universities, and other non-governmental partners – also attended the event to review the Defense Department’s commitment to family support and readiness, the status of military families, and challenges military families will experience in the future.

Why was USDA at this event in the first place?  For one thing, we have more 20 years of experience in partnering with the different military branches providing educational programs and support for military youth and families on bases and installations and in local communities. In 2009, for example, more than 24,000 youth participated in 248 4-H club programs on bases and installations in the United States and around the world.  These programs offer the mentorship, guidance, and restored sense of pride that many children of military parents lose when they have limited support around.

Currently, 24 extension staff members are on direct assignment with the military services providing important leadership and working in partnership with service personnel to deliver quality 4-H youth development programs; more than other 240 4-H professionals work in support of this partnership

across the United States.  More than 75 Cooperative Extension staff members are working with Army bases in Texas alone to address some of the most critical needs being faced by military families (i.e., health, nutrition, financial management, and family stress).  Our Extension staff, in partnership with military services, has developed nine new curricula or programs in 2009 that address important issues for military families such as health, nutrition, stress, and leadership.

DOD and military families benefit directly from an extensive cooperative extension network that spans nearly every county in the United States.  The Defense Department supports these programs through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which in turn partners with several land-grant universities who work with the extension agents to provide support to military families.

Today’s Military Families Summit offered me a great opportunity to renew and reaffirm this relationship. We announced today formation of an expanded joint effort between NIFA and DOD.  The partnership will focus on three overall areasa:  community capacity building in support of military families, workforce development, and strengthening family, child care, and youth development programs.

As the nation this week honors the service and sacrifices of our military members – and their families – we can be very proud of the role that USDA plays in reaching out and helping those families in the United States and abroad.

Rajiv Shah is Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics.

Under Secretary Marks 60th Year of USDA Telecommunications at Cooperstown, New York Event

It was great to have Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager on hand for our combined event with Bassett Healthcare on Tuesday. The event highlighted the 60th anniversary of our Telecommunications Program and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Amy, a breast cancer survivor, spoke to the crowd about the importance of breast cancer screenings and early detection, which is crucial to curing the disease. Her remarks about being the mother of two boys, as well as a wife, daughter and sister were truly moving. I’m proud that my agency has made such a positive contribution to women’s health in this very rural part of our state. Read more »

Healthy Food and Physical Activity – The Right Start to Life

Secretary Vilsack credited First Lady Michelle Obama for the beautiful weather in Washington, D.C., as the White House hosted students from seven local schools for the Healthy Kids Fair. The First Lady and USDA teamed up with local chefs and nutritionists for cooking demonstration and nutrition stations as well as physical activities led by representatives from Playworks and the local YMCA.

Before the food tastings and physical activities began, the First Lady highlighted the importance of teaching healthy habits while children are young so they make the right choices later in life. She discussed eating healthy and nutritious foods, and how physical activity is critical to overall wellbeing. “We don’t want our kids to exercise because we tell them to, we want them to exercise because it’s fun and they enjoy it,” said Mrs. Obama.

Vilsack announced the re-launch of the Healthier U.S. School Challenge that recognizes schools doing the right thing by serving healthy meals, getting junk food out of vending machines, and promoting physical activity and nutrition education. To underscore the importance of healthy, nutritious meals for our nations youth, Secretary Vilsack recalled President Obama’s first instruction when starting at the Department of Agriculture: ‘I want our children to be fed more nutritious meals.’

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything we possibly can to give you a good start on life and that means making sure you are well fed,” said Vilsack. “It also means acknowledging schools that take the extra step of providing nutritious meals but that you have time in a busy school schedule for physical activity.”

After addressing the students and parents gathered on the South Lawn, the First Lady and Secretary Vilsack visited food stations to sample baked eggs and baked apples using honey made from the White House honey bees. There was also zucchini quesadillas that Mrs. Obama noted tasted a lot like pizza and an “Eat the Rainbow” station where students could sample fruits and vegetables from all corners of the globe including star fruit, jicama and pomegranates.

The First Lady challenged students at the physical activity stations by showing her skills with a hula-hoop, double dutch jump-roping and an obstacle course.

Secretary Vilsack highlights the importance of healthy, nutritious food choices and physical activity

Secretary Vilsack highlights the importance of healthy, nutritious food choices and physical activity

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack sample food at the Healthy Kids Fair

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack sample food at the Healthy Kids Fair

Watch videos from the day’s events on the USDA’s YouTube channel.

USDA employees volunteer for healthier communities

The Obama administration has called on Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life to work to improve their communities as part of the United We Serve project. Here at USDA, many of our more than 100,000 employees are doing their part. They are driven to serve, and proud to identify ways to use their skills to support their own communities.

Here’s some work two USDA employees are doing to improve the health of their communities:

One of the children served by Mike and his family rides a horse in Virginia

Horseback riding for people with special needs — Mike (Annandale, VA)

Mike and his family have long been involved with the equestrian sport of vaulting (gymnastics on horseback). Over the past year they have hosted a regular outing for special needs children and adults from their church, giving each an opportunity to ride a horse and to learn the freedom of movement and confidence the experience brings. Nothing can compare with the sheer pleasure of seeing these individuals, often initially nervous and scared, beaming as they ride triumphantly…and often for the first time in their lives. Perhaps the most meaningful experience was last October when, during local pony rides Mike was helping with, he saw a mother with an infant whose many tubes and blank stare evidenced the severity of his condition. He asked the mother if her baby wanted a chance to ride and he was soon up on a horse in the secure arms of an experienced rider. After a 5-minute ride his mother thanked Mike and later told him that her baby was normally mostly uncommunicative, but that after riding he seemed to be alert and aware for days!

The Relay for Life Fundraiser in Steele, North Dakota, coordinated by a local USDA employee

Raising money for a cure — Nancy (Steele, ND)

Nancy coordinated the local USDA Service Center’s team for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” fundraiser in Steele, North Dakota. They named their group “Team USDA” and over a few short months raised over $4000. “Team USDA” was the top fundraising team from within the 23 teams that participated. Some of the ways they raised funds were by serving dinners for local events, selling sweets and treats, and family and friends making donations. The 23 teams for this event raised over $40,000. It was a great success and they plan to participate again next year.