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Food and Nutrition

Over the past six years, USDA programs have supported a critical nutrition safety net for millions of American children and families. USDA programs benefit national health by allowing families with few resources to access a wider variety of healthy foods and reinforcing consistent, comprehensive messages about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. These programs make a real and perceptible difference in the lives of children and their families, and ensure a brighter, healthier future for the entire country.

Fighting Hunger and Improving the Health of America's Children

As the centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to raise a healthier next generation of kids, USDA has led the effort to implement the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which ensures that more than 30 million kids get healthy meals at school.

USDA's efforts to improve and enhance the school food environment include:

  • Updated science-based school meal standards that increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, while reducing fats and sodium.
  • Implemented Smart Snacks in Schools, which sets healthy guidelines for all foods and beverages sold in school to ensure that students will be offered only healthier food options during the school day.
  • Provided performance-based funding increases of 6 cents per lunch that reward schools for meeting the new meal standards.
  • Proposed guidelines that will make sure only healthy foods and beverages are allowed to be marketed to kids at school and help our schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the environment promotes healthy choices.
  • Implemented the Community Eligibility Provision nationwide, which is helping to ensure that all children can get a healthy breakfast and lunch at school, free of charge. Over 2,200 school districts are currently participating, covering nearly 14,000 schools and more than 6.4 million children. Participating districts have increased school lunch participation by an average of 5 percent and school breakfast participation by an average of 9 percent. Some school districts have seen participation increase by as much as 37 percent.
  • Proposed professional standards to ensure that individuals responsible for the management and operation of school nutrition programs have essential knowledge and skills to provide nutritious and appealing meals that meet program requirements.
  • Provided more than $160 million in funding to help states and schools purchase and upgrade kitchen equipment since 2009.
  • Rewarded for schools for their achievements in improving school meals and the school nutrition environment through the HealthierUS School Challenge. Nearly 6,800 schools across all 50 states and Washington, DC were certified as of January 2015.
  • Provided over $15 million for 221 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools since 2013. During the 2012-2013 school year, 4,322 districts operating over 40,000 schools with 23.5 million students were connecting with local farmers to bring healthy foods and agricultural education to their schools.
  • Worked with partners to fill the summer meal gap and served more than 186 million meals to low-income children when school was out in 2014.

In addition, USDA has:

  • Made historic improvements to the variety of healthy food offered in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which serves about half of all babies born in the United States. USDA has also expanded support for breastfeeding and nutrition education. Participation in WIC leads to better pregnancy outcomes-fewer infant deaths, fewer premature births, and increased birth weights-and saves money. GAO found that every dollar spent on prenatal WIC participation saves $3.50 in health care costs.
  • Proposed practical, science-based updates to meal patterns in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to help ensure children have access to healthy, balanced meals throughout the day and improve the wellness of adults. Under the proposed rule, meals served to children and adults in day care will include a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and less sugar and fat. More than 3 million children receive meals through CACFP each day.

Providing Critical Nutrition Assistance to Those in Need

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped millions of hardworking families put healthy food on the table while they get back on their feet. More than half of SNAP recipients are children and the elderly, and only 7 percent receive cash welfare. More than 42 percent of recipients live in households where at least one person is working. USDA has undertaken major efforts to improve the healthfulness of SNAP purchases, including:

  • Research to assess the impact of incentives. USDA's work to date demonstrates that an ongoing investment of less than 15 cents per person per day may result in a 25 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults.
  • Expanding access to healthy foods for SNAP recipients by authorizing more than 5,000 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers to accept payment through the program and provided millions in funding to expand wireless card readers to additional markets.
  • Expanded the scope of SNAP nutrition education to include targeted nutrition education and obesity prevention activities for SNAP recipients and other low-income individuals. SNAP Ed served nearly 4.7 million people in fiscal year 2013.
  • Developed a toolkit in collaboration with the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) to provide SNAP State agencies with evidence based obesity prevention strategies for use in SNAP Nutrition Education programs.
  • Awarded $4 million in grants to establish four regional centers of excellence for research on nutrition education and obesity prevention, and a national coordination center, with Colorado State University, Purdue University, Cornell University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Kentucky.
  • Piloted the use of incentives at point of sale in various venues, including farmers markets and small groceries where the incentive provided for additional purchase of local produce. The 2014 farm bill provided $100 million for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants to expand this effort. Grants solicitations for the first round closed in mid-December 2014 and awards are expected in the spring of 2015.
  • USDA's Food Environment Atlas offers an interactive tool for mapping a wide range of county-level indicators of the food environment, food assistance, and affordability indicators such as distance to full-service grocery stores, incomes and poverty rates, health outcomes, and State-level participation rates for food assistance programs. This tool provides a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so.

A stronger economy appears to be helping slow and reverse the trend of rising participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Between January 2013 and January 2014, participation decreased 2.6 percent or by approximately 1.2 million people. In FY 2015, USDA will invest more than $447 million in state employment and training programs designed to help people move off of SNAP in the right way-by helping recipients build comprehensive skill sets and matching them with good paying jobs they need to be able to move off the program. Upcoming employment and training pilot projects established in the 2014 Farm Bill will identify promising practices to enhance efforts already underway.

Maintaining Excellence and Safeguarding the Taxpayer Investment in Nutrition Programs

USDA has taken important steps to protect the taxpayer investment in SNAP and make sure the program is there for those who truly need it. Over the past six years, USDA has initiated aggressive new tactics to investigate illegal activity and remove bad actors from the program.

  • USDA helped the SNAP program reach a record level of payment accuracy: 96.8% for fiscal year 2013. Payment errors in fiscal year 2013 were almost 64 percent lower than the fiscal year 2000 payment error rate of 8.91 percent. (latest available data)
  • USDA efforts have resulted in a significant reduction in trafficking-the exchange of SNAP benefits for cash-which was as high as 4% 15 years ago, down to just 1.3% today.
  • Over the past six fiscal years, FNS compliance analysts and investigators reviewed over 110,000 stores for compliance monitoring purposes. As a result, investigations were conducted on more than 39,000 stores nationwide to ensure program integrity.
  • In fiscal year 2014, USDA reviewed more than 17,000 stores and conducted more than 7,000 investigations. Over 1,400 stores were permanently disqualified for trafficking in SNAP benefits or falsifying an application and over 700 stores were sanctioned for other violations such as the sale of ineligible items.
  • USDA issued a new rule regarding excessive replacement cards (4 or more in 12 months), and that required States to at least send warning letters to recipients, but also permitted them to take further actions. These efforts have led to a 26 percent reduction in excessive card replacements nationwide in 2013 compared to 2012.
  • USDA initiated a pilot to test the feasibility of establishing a National Accuracy Clearinghouse database, through OMB's Partnership Fund for Integrity, to prevent duplicate participation in SNAP across State lines in real time. The final evaluation report is due to Congress in 2016.
  • USDA awarded $5 million in grants to States for innovative strategies to prevent and hold SNAP recipients who engage in trafficking accountable.
  • USDA initiated a business process re-engineering project with selected SNAP State agencies to streamline their procedures and incorporate the use of advanced data analytics to better monitor SNAP recipient activity for indicators of potential trafficking.
  • Additionally, as a result of this project and in collaboration with the State of South Carolina, USDA implemented a new predictive analytics model that tracks electronic transaction patterns and activity and identifies potential recipient trafficking for investigation and prosecution by the State.

Providing Science-Based Nutrition Advice to America's Families

USDA created the MyPlate icon to provide a powerful visual cue to promote healthier eating at mealtimes. MyPlate provides quick, easy reference tools to facilitate healthy eating on a budget for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and communities.

  • In 2014, three years after the launch of the icon, an International Food Information Council Foundation survey found that 58 percent of consumers were familiar with MyPlate.
  • ChooseMyPlate.gov offers resources in English and Spanish, including materials for preschoolers, kids, teens, college students, adults, pregnant and breastfeeding moms, which have been downloaded 91 million times since the site was launched in 2011. The site has received over 197 million page views since January 2012.
  • In 2011, USDA launched the SuperTracker, a free online nutrition planning and tracking tool. SuperTracker helps over 4.3 million registered users improve food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and track physical activity on a daily basis. Since its launch, it has reached more than 329.4 million page views and averages 6,100 new registered users daily. In January 2015, CNPP launched SuperTracker mobile.