USDA awards funding for regional centers of excellence in nutrition education and obesity prevention

Oct. 17, 2014, U.S. Department of Agriculture

On Oct. 17 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $4 million in grants to establish four regional centers of excellence for research on nutrition education and obesity prevention, as well as a coordinating center, which will develop and test innovative nutrition education and obesity prevention interventions for underserved, low-income families.

“Nearly one in three children today is overweight or obese, and nutrition promotion strategies, including education, public policies, health systems, and environmental changes, are the key to reversing this trend,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, Ph.D., National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) director. “These grants provide the opportunity to improve the health of our next generation and ensure that all children have access to the tools they need to improve their nutrition and physical fitness.” Continue reading

USDA backs healthy incentives

Oct. 6, 2014, U.S. Department of Agriculture

USDA is firmly committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to a safe, healthy, adequate, and affordable diet. Unfortunately, our nation is facing an unprecedented nutrition crisis, with far too many Americans facing both food insecurity and obesity. Although it seems paradoxical, the two actually go hand in hand far too often. To reverse the course of this two-sided crisis, we must create a cultural change that facilitates and encourages healthy food choices among all Americans.

Continue reading

USDA invests nearly $118 million to support America’s specialty crop producers

Oct. 2, 2014, U.S. Department of Agriculture

On Oct. 2 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced nearly $118 million in grants to strengthen markets for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops. The grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill as part of an effort to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and provide resources to strengthen American agriculture. The Secretary made the announcement in Florida.

“Specialty crop grants provide a major boost to the rural economies,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s announcement is another example of how [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] (USDA) is implementing the Farm Bill to deliver critical tools producers need to successfully grow, process, and market high-quality products.”

Sales of specialty crops total nearly $65 billion per year, making them a critical part of the U.S. economy. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), will provide $66 million to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research and programs to increase demand. In addition, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is awarding $51.8 million in grants through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). SCRI supports the specialty crop sector by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. Continue reading

Farmers market vouchers may help low-income families eat healthier

July 24, 2014, HealthDay

Giving low-income families vouchers to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers markets could increase their consumption of these healthy foods, according to a new study.

Low-income families tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. In addition to not having adequate access to healthy foods, cost is also an issue. Farmers market vouchers could help address both of these obstacles, the researchers noted.

“In terms of healthy food options, farmers market incentives may be able to bring a low-income person onto the same playing field as those with greater means,” study author Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor of food studies at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, said in a university news release.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (previously known as food stamps) are accepted at one in four farmers markets in the United States. The researchers pointed out these benefits normally can be used to buy any type of food, including ice cream or soda. Continue reading

Study finds elementary students like new healthier lunches

July 23, 2014, The Wall Street Journal

By Caroline Porter and Stephanie Armour

A new study reveals that the healthier school lunches despised in 2012 are now found to be agreeable among students and staffers.

When the federal government implemented new school meal regulations in 2012, a majority of elementary school students complained about the healthier lunches, but by the end of the school year most found the food agreeable, according to survey results released July 21.

The peer-reviewed study comes amid concerns that the regulations led schools to throw away more uneaten food and prompted some students to drop out of meal programs.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago surveyed administrators at more than 500 primary schools about student reaction to the new meals in the 2012-2013 school year. They found that 70 percent agreed or strongly agreed that students, by the end of the school year, generally liked the new lunches, which feature more whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and lower fat levels. Continue reading

Chat with NCCOR about childhood obesity on Sept. 9

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Today, nearly one out of three kids in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in the African American and Hispanic communities. Overweight and obese kids are at risk for a host of chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.

In observance of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month in September, join the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research for a Twitter Chat on Sept. 9, at 2 pm, ET.

We’ll be using the hashtag #childobesitychat.

Hosted by NCCOR (@NCCOR) alongside the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (@NICHD_NIH) and National Cancer Institute (@theNCI), we’ll discuss risk factors, research, and promising strategies. Most importantly, we’ll direct you to valuable resources.

In addition, NCCOR members Layla Esposito, Ph.D., and April Oh, Ph.D., M.P.H., of NICHD and NCI, respectively, will serve as our subject matter experts and help guide the discussion.

“It’s a great opportunity to be a part of the social media conversation around childhood obesity,” said Dr. Oh.

“Working with NCCOR to engage with researchers, practitioners, and the broader public about childhood obesity using the interactive Twitter platform is a dynamic way to communicate health and disseminate information,” she added.

Please include #childobesitychat in your tweets and follow @NCCOR for more information. Also, register for our chat at http://twtvite.com/childobesitychat.

Tweet you soon!

NCCOR brings together four of the nation’s leading research funders – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and application of childhood obesity research and accelerate progress in reducing childhood obesity.  

New USDA report explores healthy food incentives for SNAP users

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, “Approaches for Promoting Healthy Food Purchases by SNAP Participants,” examines healthy eating incentives for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users.

Allison Karpyn, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Center for Research and Education and Social Policy at the University of Delaware co-authored the report and was interviewed on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift program. Listen to The Food Trust’s Dr. Karpyn below.

The project and report was guided by a research question: How can nutrition labeling systems be used to direct, encourage, or incentivize healthier food choices by SNAP participants in retail food settings?

As such, the research project had three main objectives:

1. To develop a plan for how FOP and shelf-labeling systems could be applied to identify healthy choices across all food categories (packaged, bulk, frozen, fresh) and could be used as a basis for incentivizing healthy choices for SNAP participants.

2. To develop theory-based approaches that leverage front of package (FOP) and shelf-labeling systems to promote healthier food purchases by SNAP participants in a manner that is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

3. To identify two approaches that warranted further exploration, describing a step-wise study design for implementing and testing the impact of each approach through a future pilot study.

Check out the full USDA report.

Learn more about the NCCOR Healthy Food Incentives project.

 

School vending machines ditch Oreos, Fritos for ‘smart snacks’

July 1, 2014, Chicago Tribune

By Jessica Wohl

The school vending machine is no longer an easy place to satisfy a snack craving.

Under new national nutritional guidelines that kick in July 1, schools that are part of the National School Lunch Program can no longer sell treats such as Oreos and Fritos. The “Smart Snacks in School” program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covers foods and drinks sold in vending machines, on cafeteria à la carte menus and for club fundraisers during school hours.

For years, school systems have been pushing for healthier foods on their breakfast and lunch menus. Now, schools must also make sure products in their vending machines meet new standards.

Companies that fill school vending machines have been busy preparing to ensure they have the right products. The USDA standards include limits on calories, sodium, and sugar. Grain items must have 50 percent or more whole grains by weight, or list whole grains as their first ingredient. Continue reading

SNAP-Ed Toolkit adds 30 new resources

In 2013, the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) helped the U.S. Department of Agriculture compile the first edition the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) Toolkit. The toolkit includes comprehensive, evidence-based, obesity prevention resources and interventions, as well as nutrition and physical activity strategies that can be readily adopted by SNAP-Ed agencies and states.

In May 2014, NCCOR and USDA released an updated version of the toolkit which includes 30 additional resources and interventions, and highlights those interventions with helpful designations: “research-tested,” “practice-tested,” or “emerging.” Continue reading

Free drinking water available to most U.S. kids at school lunch

April 9, 2014, HealthDay

Most schools meet a new U.S. government requirement to provide free drinking water for students during lunchtime, a new study finds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rule for schools in the National School Lunch Program took effect at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

Most schools fulfill the requirement by having water fountains in the cafeteria, providing cups for use at drinking fountains, placing water pitchers on lunch tables, and offering free bottled water.

Schools in the south were more likely to meet the requirements than those in other regions of the nation, according to the study published April 9 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Continue reading