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Food and Nutrition

In 2012, more than 47 million Americans lived in households that had difficulty putting food on the table and USDA helped provide a hunger safety net for these families. In times of record need, USDA has provided critical nutrition assistance to millions of families. Learn more about how USDA is delivering results and working hard to provide a safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply for the American people.

Fighting Hunger and Improving the Health of Our Families and Children

As the centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids, USDA led the effort to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, historic legislation to allow us, for the first time in 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for nearly 32 million children who eat school lunch each day and the 12 million who eat breakfast at school.

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

  • Updated science-based school meal standards for the National School Lunch Program to increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy while reducing fats, sodium and sugars;
  • Performance-based funding increases of 6 cents per lunch for schools meeting the new meal standards; this is the first real increase in 30 years;
  • Implemented new snack-food standards in schools that preserve flexibility for time-honored traditions like fundraisers and bake sales, and provide ample transition time for schools;
  • Provision of training and technical assistance to help schools meet improved standards. USDA is working closely with schools to move swiftly to make these reforms a reality in every school.

USDA encouraged more schools to promote healthy eating and exercise through the HealthierUS School Challenge, which has made awards to over 6,526 schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia for their achievements in improving school meals and the school nutrition environment.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program helps ensure the nutritional health of pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding mothers, infants and children, serving about half of all babies born in the United States. USDA made historic improvements to the range of healthy food offered in the program including adding whole grains, fruits and vegetables - the first comprehensive changes in 30 years - based on expert scientific recommendations.

During summer months, USDA works with more than 4,800 community sponsors to serve millions of meals to low-income children through the Summer Food Service Program.

USDA has responded to more than 100 disasters since 2009 with disaster nutrition assistance for low-income Americans, mothers, infants and children. Those efforts delivered help to more than 1.3 million families when they most needed it.

Learn about more Child Nutrition Programs from the Food and Nutrition Service.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The recent economic downturn resulted in a substantial increase in need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - often known as a 'food stamps' - a critical tool to ensure access to healthy food for hardworking families as they get back on their feet.

SNAP-the largest of the 15 domestic nutrition assistance programs and the nation's first line of defense against hunger-helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month.

  • SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budget of more than 47 million low-income individuals.
  • More than 50 percent of SNAP recipients are children and the elderly (45 percent are children and nearly 9 percent are elderly), and only 8 percent receive cash welfare.
  • Over 30 percent of SNAP households have earnings and 41 percent of all participants live in households with earnings.

SNAP achieved a record level of payment accuracy of 96.58 percent in fiscal year 2012. Payment errors are less than half what they were in FY 2000, which has reduced improper payments by $4.1 billion in 2012. Furthermore, trafficking - the exchange of SNAP benefits for cash - has been reduced to about one cent on the dollar.

In 2012, FNS compliance analysts and investigators reviewed over 15,000 stores for compliance monitoring purposes. As a result, investigations were conducted on more than 5,000 stores nationwide to ensure program integrity.

Read more USDA Food and Nutrition Service Program Quick Facts (PDF, 18KB).

Learn more about USDA Efforts to Reduce Waste, Fraud and Abuse in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (PDF, 161KB).

Nutrition Publications and Research