In honor of National Nutrition Month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined in a press release yesterday, 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, Vilsack noted the USDA has made significant improvements to 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. 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 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.
Vilsack said that USDA empowers Americans to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice like the USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov, which 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. The USDA also 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. The 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. 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. 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.