At USDA, we are working hard to ensure that America’s next generation has access to the healthy foods they need to grow, learn, achieve, and eventually to compete and succeed on a global stage.
We are focused on feeding a healthier future, but we are also learning that the country as a whole is making the shift towards a more health-conscious society. USDA recently released a study that shows that the diets of American adults are improving. More people are reading nutrition labels and using that information to make healthier food choices at the grocery stores. We are eating out less and sitting down around the supper table with family more.
At USDA, we have made it a priority to support this progress by ensuring that our programs empower the American public to make smart choices every day at school, at home and in their communities. We are offering more nutritious food options and backing that up with the best available science-based advice on what to eat and why to eat it.
Our MyPlate symbol makes it easier for people to visualize what a healthy meal should like on the plate, and is being used around the country in school cafeterias, in nutrition education programs and on food packaging. Tools like the SuperTracker are helping people establish and apply proper nutrition and dietary habits in their everyday lives.
We have also partnered with the Treasury and Health and Human Services Departments to help improve access to nutritious food in underserved communities. With our external and federal partners, we are supporting initiatives that expand healthy food options in communities, improve people’s ability to purchase that food, and create economic opportunities for America’s farmers and small businesses across the country.
Americans now have expanded opportunity to access healthy products from local farmers and ranchers through farmers markets, thanks in part to a more than 50 percent increase in the number of markets supported by USDA. Shoppers using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits now have access to more fruits and vegetables, as a result of USDA and our partners’ concerted efforts to expand SNAP card reader technology to nearly 4,000 farmers markets across the country.
Through our Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which serves more than half of all babies born in the United States, we are ensuring that very young children get the vital nutrients they need during their most vulnerable years. Recent reports credit WIC for its key role in the tremendous progress we’ve in the fight against childhood obesity, as rates among low-income children are now declining for the first time since the 1980s.
Our schools are building upon that progress by serving healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks—chock full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein—to students. Ninety percent of our nation’s schools are fully meeting the new nutritional standards for school meals and we expect the remainder to follow soon behind.
This progress is due in part to the commitment of public and private entities—not just USDA and this Administration, but our local leader partners in schools, small businesses, and state capitols across the country—charged with implementing practical, modern policies that work out in the real world, not just inside the Beltway.
We have made significant headway, but our work is not done. We continue to invest in critical programs that ensure that healthy, safe, affordable food is available to children and families. As always, we are pushing Congress to finish the work of a passing a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that continues to build upon these efforts and supports a healthier next generation of American leaders.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture at the USDA.