Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has outlined the need for a generational commitment to improve childhood nutrition, which will lead to a healthier generation of Americans. While health and nutrition are complex topics, Mr. Vilsack noted USDA has made significant focus on improving consumers' access to information and helping consumers have better access to food, which together will ensure progress as the nation battles both childhood obesity and malnutrition. Mr. Vilsack made his remarks at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at the Maine Medical Center where he was joined by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, and representatives from the medical, nutrition, public health, education, military and business communities.
"We must continue to take action today to ensure that today's young people grow up healthy and strong, or we will see more challenges — everything from soaring health care costs to diminished national security and decreased business competitiveness," said Mr. Vilsack. "Improving the nutrition of our young people has tremendous implications for our country's future."
Over the course of the past 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity nearly tripled. Nearly one in three American children and adolescents today are overweight or obese. Some of those children come from low-income families, where access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity can be limited. Nearly a third of our nation's young people are at risk for preventable diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Preventable diseases have serious consequences — which is why health experts tell us that our current generation of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Mr. Vilsack said that USDA empowers Americans to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice:
• USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov provide quick, easy reference tools for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and communities. The resources are based on scientific information included in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
• USDA created SuperTracker, a free online planning and tracking tool used by over two million Americans to help them improve food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and track physical activity.
• USDA provides shopping strategies and meal planning advice to help families serve more nutritious meals affordably through its 10-Tips Nutrition Series and the Thrifty Food Plan.
• USDA education programs target these materials to recipients of food assistance programs to ensure they are well-informed and able to make healthy choices.
Mr. Vilsack also noted that American agriculture provides our nation with the tools we need to increase the availability, affordability and variety of nutritious food. American agriculture provides more than 80% of our food supply here at home, and U.S. families allocate a smaller percentage of their salary for food prepared at home than the people of any developed nation. He outlined USDA's efforts to help families provide the nutrition children need, by taking steps to increase access to healthy foods:
• America's students now have healthier and more nutritious school meals due to improved nutrition standards implemented as a result of the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
• Through the Know Your Famer, Know Your Food initiative, USDA has worked to increase access to nutritious food through the development of strong local and regional food systems. The number of farmers markets increased by more than 67 percent in the last four years and there are now more than 220 regional food hubs in operation around the country.
• USDA is making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible for low-income families. More than 3,200 farmers markets and farm stands are now authorized to accept payment through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), an increase of nearly 100 percent since 2010.
• USDA launched a new $5 million Farm to School grant program in 2012 to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In its first year, the grants are supporting 68 projects serving nearly 2 million students.
Mr. Vilsack noted that USDA continues working with First Lady Michelle Obama on the Let's Move! initiative, which is helping to promote healthy eating and physical activity while empowering Americans to combat childhood obesity. Through the combined efforts of USDA and its partners, the United States is beginning to see progress and improvements in the health of our nation's children.