Food and Nutrition
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. Over the past seven years, USDA has made significant progress in maximizing the ability of these programs to fight hunger and improve health, while also ensuring that benefits are delivered efficiently and with integrity.
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 50 million children have a healthier food environment 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. To date, more than 17,000 schools (about 60 percent of eligible schools) in nearly 3,000 school districts are participating, reaching more than 8.1 million students. 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.
- Established 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 $215 million in funding to help states and schools purchase and upgrade kitchen equipment since 2009.
- Rewarded schools for their achievements in improving school meals and the school nutrition environment through the HealthierUS School Challenge. Over 6,700 schools across all 50 states and Washington, DC were certified as of November 2015.
- Provided over $19.9 million for 295 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools since 2013. This included 12,300 schools and 6.9 million students are estimated to have been reached through these activities.
- Since 2009, USDA and its partners have served more than 1.2 billion summer meals to low-income kids when school is not in session and healthy school meals are not available.
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 outcomesfewer 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 6,400 farmers markets - a dramatic increase from just 753 in 2008 - 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.
- 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.
- In 2014, 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. In 2015, USDA awarded $2 million in grants to support research on nutrition education and obesity prevention for disadvantaged children and families at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Utah State University.
- 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. USDA awarded its first round of grantees in the spring of 2015 and announced a second round of funding in October 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 is helping slow and reverse the trend of rising participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. From its peak rates during the Great Recession, SNAP participation is now down by over 2 million participants. In FY 2015, USDA invested 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 seven 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 high level of payment accuracy: 96.34% for fiscal year 2014. In fiscal year 2014, over 99 percent of participating households were eligible for SNAP as determined by income and other program criteria. The fiscal year 2014 error rate of 3.66 percent is a combined rate that reflects an overpayment rate of 2.96 percent and a rate of underpayment of 0.69 percent. Payment errors in fiscal year 2014 were approximately 60 percent lower than the fiscal year 2000 payment error rate of 8.9 percent.
- 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 course of the Administration, 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.
- 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 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 January 2016, USDA, with our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, providing food-based recommendations for healthy eating based on the strongest available scientific evidence.
- 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 103 million times since January 2012. The site has received over 304.8 million page views since the site was launched in June 2011.
- In December 2011, USDA launched the SuperTracker, a free online nutrition planning and tracking tool. SuperTracker has helped over 6 million registered users improve food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and track physical activity. Since its launch, it has received more than 477.7 million page views and averages 4,400 new registered users daily. In January 2015, CNPP launched SuperTracker mobile.