Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday discussed USDA efforts to improve access to healthy foods, and outlined the need for a renewed commitment to improve childhood nutrition, which includes empowering parents to provide healthy meals for their families.
"We must help families provide our children with healthy foods that are full of the nutrients they need," Vilsack said. "Research shows that healthy foods aren't always more expensive than less healthy options. Expanding access to affordable, healthy options and providing more information for parents will help create a generational shift to reverse the obesity crisis and protect the health of our youngest Americans."
Secretary Vilsack made two announcements Thursday highlighting USDA's Food and Nutrition commitments.
First, a pilot program initiated by the USDA to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among students in the nation's poorest elementary schools resulted in 15% higher consumption among students in the program.
The program began as a pilot in 2002 to examine the effects of providing free, fresh fruits and vegetables to students outside of regular school meals. The report released today demonstrates that when children are provided healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks, they were not only willing to try them, but the majority finished them.
Secretary Vilsack also announced the launch of the SNAP: Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program. This program expands the scope of the existing SNAP education program by providing states with additional flexibility to support targeted nutrition education and obesity prevention activities according to the needs of SNAP recipients and low-income families in their state.
Under this new program, states could use the funding for a variety of activities including bringing famers markets to low income areas, developing policies for addressing food deserts in low-income areas, or educating SNAP retailers on how to stock healthier food options.
"Expanding access to nutritious food will not only empower American families to serve healthy meals to their children, but it will also help expand the demand of agricultural products," Vilsack said. "These efforts will help open new markets for famers to sell their products, create jobs, and help revitalize distressed communities."
Research by USDA's Economic Research Service has found that healthy foods are often no more expensive than less-nutritious foods. More than 80% of U.S. food supply comes from American agriculture, and American families pay less for their food at the grocery store than the people of any developed nation.