President Obama and Secretary Vilsack have made providing our children with healthier, more nutritious meals a top priority. Good nutrition is not only vital to the long-term health of children; it is an integral part of improving academic performance, and ensuring that future generations will be competitive in a global economy.
That is why Secretary Vilsack is committed to the President’s goal of investing $10 billion over 10 years to improve the Child Nutrition Programs to improve access, and to enhance the quality of the meals and the health of the whole school environment. It is why USDA is working to implement the Institute of Medicine’s suggestions to upgrade school meal requirements to enhance nutritional value. And we are also working to eliminate barriers that keep eligible families from enrolling in our nutrition programs.
Secretary Vilsack also joined Michelle Obama at the White House to re-launch the HealthierUS School Challenge, expanding it to include middle school and high school students. The Challenge will motivate schools to serve healthier meals, conduct nutrition education and promote physical activity. To further promote the importance of staying active, the USDA signed a partnership with the NFL and the National Dairy Council to support the “Fuel Up and Play 60” campaign.
The Agriculture Marketing Service and Food Nutrition Service also worked together to provide fresh-cut apple products via the National School Lunch Program. Five states, including California and New York, have already ordered millions of pounds of apples. By December 2010, school districts in 10 states will be serving fresh-cut apples. The success of the program has allowed AMS to expand their fresh-cut offers to include carrots.
USDA’s nutrition assistance programs touch 1 in 5 Americans each year. Currently more than 37 million Americans receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help them purchase nutritious food, which also helps stimulate the economy by supporting grocery stores, truck drivers, and American farmers. In fact, every $1 spent on SNAP benefits generates over $1.84 in economic activity.
More than 13 million people eligible for SNAP benefits don’t participate. Even a small increase in the number of Americans participating in the Program will generate billions of dollars in economic activity while providing children with safe, nutritious food. If you or someone you know may be eligible for SNAP, ask them to apply online on the SNAP Application website.
In 2009, USDA made tremendous headway in providing families, children, and schools the choice to eat healthier. In the coming months and years, we look forward to continuing to help Americans lead healthy, prosperous lives.