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Release No. 0082.10
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USDA Office of Communication 202-720-4623

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USDA DEMONSTRATES NEW 'FOOD ENVIRONMENT ATLAS' UNVEILED AS PART OF LET'S MOVE! CAMPAIGN

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2010 - USDA officials today highlighted one of its newest web-based mapping tool, Your Food Environment Atlas, which will enable researchers, policy makers, and the public to find information on a range of factors that affect access to healthy, affordable food, and will allow users to map the data by county. The map will provide highly detailed information on local food environments and health outcomes, including grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence.

The demonstration of the new mapping tool follows First Lady Michelle Obama's launch of the Let's Move! campaign, a high-priority initiative to address childhood obesity within a generation. The food environment atlas will help to jump-start a national discussion on childhood nutrition, health, and well-being. The Food Environment Atlas is at www.ers.usda.gov/foodatlas. Learn more about the Let's Move! campaign by visiting www.LetsMove.gov .

"The First Lady has set an aggressive goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation because this epidemic is keeping our children from reaching their potential, and we're going to need new tools, greater collaboration, and new partnerships to address this crisis," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "As we continue working to improve the nutrition of our kids, this new food atlas will be an important tool to help decision makers become more aware of local challenges that impact the overall health and nutrition of the American people in their local communities."

Factors such as food prices, household income, and proximity and access to grocery stores in a community are among the potential determinants of balanced, healthy diets. These "food environment" factors interact to influence food choices and diet quality, and also reflect the outcome in terms of residents' well-being.

The Food Environment Atlas, developed by the USDA's Economic Research Service, assembles information on three broad categories of food environment indicators:

  • Food Choices-Indicators of the community's access to and acquisition of healthy, affordable food. Examples are access and proximity to a grocery store; number of food stores and restaurants; expenditures on fast foods; food and nutrition assistance program participation; quantities of foods eaten; food prices; food taxes; and availability of local foods.
  • Health and Well-Being-Indicators of the community's success in maintaining healthy diets. Examples are food insecurity; diabetes and obesity rates; and physical activity levels.
  • Community characteristics-Indicators of community characteristics that might influence the food environment. Examples are demographic composition; income and poverty; population loss; urban versus rural location; natural amenities; and recreation and fitness centers.

The online Atlas currently contains 90 indicators of the food environment and is available to the public. Most of the data are at the county level. A user can select an indicator - for example, the prevalence of obesity - and create a map showing how obesity levels vary across the United States or across a state. Atlas users can identify counties with a combination of indicators - for example, those with persistent child poverty as well as high numbers of residents with poor access to grocery stores. The Atlas also allows users to get data on any and all of the county-level indicators for a particular county.

In addition to USDA's Economic Research Service, a number of government agencies contributed to the data in the Food Environment Atlas. The National Institutes of Health provided indicators on physical activity and recreation centers; USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service provided indicators on farmers' markets; USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provided information on State-level food and nutrition assistance program participation rates; and the National Farm-to-School Network provided statistics on farm-to-school programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contributed the statistics on obesity and diabetes.

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