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Food and Nutrition

Over the past five years, USDA has provided a critical nutrition safety net for millions of American children and families. USDA programs have benefited 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 and Families

  • 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.
  • USDA's efforts to improve and enhance the school food environment include:
    1. Updated science-based school meal standards that increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, while reducing fats and sodium;
    2. 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;
    3. Performance-based funding increases of 6 cents per lunch that reward schools for meeting the new meal standards;
    4. 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;
    5. Expanded community eligibility, which helps ensure that all children can get a healthy breakfast and lunch at school, free of charge, to nearly 3,000 eligible school districts, covering more than 22,000 schools and potentially impacting more than 8.8 million children;
    6. Provided more than $160 million in funding to help states and schools purchase and upgrade kitchen equipment since 2009;
    7. Rewards for schools for their achievements in improving school meals and the school nutrition environment through the HealthierUS School Challenge. More than 6,700 schools across all 50 states and Washington, DC were certified as of May 2014;
    8. Since the launch of Chefs Move to Schools in 2010, over 7,000 chefs and 2,600 schools signed up to participate; and
    9. Since 2013, USDA has provided nearly $10 million for 139 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In the 2012-2013 school year alone, school districts spent $386 million on locally and regionally-sourced food.
  • Last summer, USDA worked with more than 5,000 community sponsors to fill the summer meal gap and serve more than 168 million meals to low-income children when school is out. That's an increase of more than 750 sponsors and 14 million meals since 2009.
  • 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 increased support for breastfeeding and nutrition education.
  • In the aftermath of more than 100 disasters over the past five years, USDA has provided critical food assistance to more than 1.3 million American families when they needed it most.
  • 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.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – often known as ‘food stamps' – 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.
  • 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.
  • Last year, USDA invested more than $386 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.
  • USDA has also undertaken major efforts to improve the healthfulness of SNAP purchases, including:
    1. 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;
    2. Expanding access to healthy foods for SNAP recipients by authorizing more than 5,000 farmers markets and farm stands to accept payment through the program and launched a $4 million grant program to expand SNAP card readers to additional markets; and
    3. Expanded the scope of SNAP-Ed 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.

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 five 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: 96.58% for fiscal year 2012. Payment errors in fiscal year 2012 were almost 62 percent lower than the fiscal year 2000 payment error rate of 8.91 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 past five fiscal years, FNS compliance analysts and investigators reviewed over 91,000 stores for compliance monitoring purposes. As a result, investigations were conducted on more than 38,000 stores nationwide to ensure program integrity.
  • In fiscal year 2013 alone, USDA reviewed more than 17,000 stores and conducted more than 7,000 investigations. Over 1,200 stores were permanently disqualified for trafficking in SNAP benefits or falsifying an application and nearly 800 stores were sanctioned for other violations such as the sale of ineligible items.
  • USDA issued a new rule regarding excessive replacement cards (5 or more in 12 months), and encouraged states to send warning letters to recipients. These efforts have led to a 26 percent reduction in excessive card replacements nationwide in 2013 compared to 2012.

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 2013, just two years after the launch of the icon, an International Food Information Council Foundation survey found that 61 percent of consumers were familiar with MyPlate.
  • offers resources in English and Spanish, including materials for preschoolers, kids, teens, college students, adults, pregnant and breastfeeding moms, which have been downloaded 74 million times since the site was launched in 2011. The site has received over 171 million page views since January 2012.
  • In 2011, USDA launched the SuperTracker, a free online nutrition planning and tracking tool. SuperTracker helps over 3.8 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 294.3 million page views and averages 6,000 new registered users daily.
  • More than 100 National Strategic Partners, 7,300 Community Partners, and 2,100 MyPlate On Campus Ambassadors help promote MyPlate in communities across the country. During the 2013 calendar year, National Strategic Partners accounted for over 4 billion consumer and over 53 million consumer influencer impressions, respectively, through coordinated messaging.