The U.S. Department of Agriculture works every day to improve childhood nutrition and combat obesity in order to raise a healthier generation of Americans.
In recent days, we have had some positive developments in this work. USDA released a promising new report on the impacts of providing our children with healthy snacks. We also took new steps to provide families with better information to combat obesity.
The new report examined the results of USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides fruits and vegetables at no cost to students in more than 7,100 schools in low income areas.
We found that as students are introduced to fresh fruits and vegetables, they try them – and in most cases, they enjoy these snacks. Students participating in the program ate 15 percent more fruits and vegetables than their peers. In fact, when these fruits and vegetables were offered in schools, almost every student tried one.
For those who chose a fruit, more than 85 percent ate most or all of their snack. For students who tried a vegetable, more than 60 percent ate most of it, or finished the whole serving.
Research by USDA’s Economic Research Service has also found that these healthy foods are often no more expensive than less-nutritious foods. Still, there are millions of American families who lack access to healthy foods due to economic or geographical barriers.
USDA recently announced a measure that will improve nutrition education for low-income families, ultimately helping them to access more nutritious foods.
The new policy aims to give more flexibility for states to provide targeted education to recipients of the SNAP program, with a special goal of increasing healthy eating habits and reducing obesity. The new measure will help expand farmers markets and community gardens that help expand access to healthy foods. It will provide assistance for parents to access nutrition information. And it will help retailers provide healthier foods to participants in SNAP.
These efforts to increase availability, affordability and information regarding healthy foods are more important than ever today. One-third of kids today are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for preventable illness in the decades to come. Along with malnutrition, this threatens our nation’s security and economic well-being in the decades to come.
By improving access to healthy foods for our young people and their families, we can help create generational change to reduce childhood obesity and child malnutrition. Together, we can give today’s young people the tools they need to grow up healthy, strong and ready to succeed.