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Meaningful Support

 

Providing nutrition support from pregnancy to birth and beyond.

USDA is fostering healthy eating for our program participants across all life stages.

Read USDA Nutrition Security Blogs on Meaningful Support

Ensuring benefits are adequate to support healthy eating patterns.

School-Age Children
  • USDA has been working with States since the spring of 2020 to distribute Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) food assistance to households with children who lack consistent access to free or reduced-price meals at school or in child care, due to the COVID-19 health emergency. P-EBT is also available for eligible children in the summer when the risk of food insecurity increases. All States and U.S. territories have distributed benefits for pre-school-age children in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households and school-age children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. USDA and the States distributed $10.8 billion in FY 2020 and $28.2 billion in FY 2021. USDA continues to work with States on P-EBT plans for the 2021—2022 school year.
  • Through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program, USDA provides school-age children in low-income countries a wide range of nutrition support, including culturally appropriate daily school meals and/or snacks made from primarily donated U.S. commodities. The program also provides nutrition education in the classroom and leverages proven social and behavior change interventions to encourage healthy eating. Children may also help tend to school gardens and learn how to grow foods.
All Life Stages
  • While the economic and demographic circumstances of households are closely correlated with food security, not all households with similar circumstances face the same food security statuses—other factors can be important determinants. USDA is investing in a study to better understand the relationship between poverty, well-being and food security, and this work aims to identify measures of poverty and well-being associated with household food security statuses among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-eligible participants and non-participants in persistent poverty counties.
  • USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) reevaluated the Thrifty Food Plan, which serves as the basis for calculating Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, increasing the benefit by 21 percent. This action resulted in the first permanent increase to the purchasing power of SNAP benefits since the Thrifty Food Plan was introduced 45 years ago and will better support healthy eating.
  • USDA has worked to advance fairer access to nutrition assistance in the American territories. We provided $2.5 billion to Puerto Rico, $30 million to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and more than $10 million to American Samoa, which allowed the territories to boost monthly food benefits. This added financial support ensures that all people in the territories—regardless of race, ethnicity or background—have better access to healthy food.

Updating program nutrition standards to reflect the latest nutrition science

Mothers, Infants, and Young Children
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) serves about half of all infants born in the United States. The WIC food package has been shown to increase the availability of healthy foods and beverages on shelves of WIC-participating stores, especially in low-income neighborhoods (benefiting non-WIC consumers too). In 2022, FNS will publish a rule proposing to update the WIC food packages to ensure the food package provides high-quality nutrition at critical stages of the life course. This science-based proposal will implement recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, and will include a public comment period.
  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is supporting a second edition of the Study of Nutrition in Childcare Settings, which aims to collect data in 2023 to assess the nutritional content of Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meals, along with observed nutrient intake of program participants, plate waste, and meal cost.
School-Age Children
  • Meals at school, during the summer and in child care facilities are vital to the health, well-being, and futures of our Nation’s children. USDA’s National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Service Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program provide critical nutrition to tens of millions of children every day, while exposing them to healthy foods and nurturing healthy habits they can carry throughout their lives. The updates to the school meal nutrition standards, to reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, are giving schools time to transition from current, pandemic operations toward even more nutritious meals.
  • The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is updating the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food package based on the latest DGA and implementing recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to ensure the food package continues to provide high-quality nutrition to pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. This will ensure WIC participants receive food that encourages nutrition and good health.
  • The Special Milk Program (SMP) provides milk to children in schools and child care institutions who do not participate in other Federal meal service programs. The program reimburses schools for the milk they serve. Schools in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs may also participate in the Special Milk Program to provide milk to children in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs where children do not have access to the school meal programs. By providing low-fat and fat-free fluid milk, the SMP increases children’s access to nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, that are typically under consumed in childhood and adolescence.
  • The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regularly conducts the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS), a comprehensive study, which assesses the nutritional content and quality of the meals offered and purchased at school, plate waste, the school nutrition environment, school food service operations, costs to produce school meals, as well as student participation, characteristics, satisfaction, and attitudes towards the school lunch and breakfast programs.
All Life Stages
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service supports research focused on food-based strategies that improve the nutritional health of all Americans and the scientific basis for Federal recommendations such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Dietary Reference Intakes. ARS also studies the health benefits of dietary guidelines recommendations.

Delivering high-quality nutrition education

Mothers, Infants, and Young Children
  • Americans can receive healthy eating tips from MyPlate on feeding babies and toddlers on their Amazon Alexa devices or on their smartphones or tablets with the free Amazon Alexa mobile application.
  • The USDA National Agricultural Library provides credible nutrition information for women, infants, and toddlers. The Food and Nutrition Information Center at the National Agricultural Library provides trustworthy infant and toddler nutrition resources for nutrition educators, professionals, and researchers.
School-Age Children
  • Since 1995, the Team Nutrition initiative has provided schools, childcare sites, and summer meals sites with evidence-based educational resources and grants to promote nutritious food choices within these environments. For example, in March 2022, Team Nutrition is releasing a “Best Practices for Reducing Added Sugars at School Breakfast” guide and an updated “Guide to Smart Snacks in School.” In May 2022, Team Nutrition awarded approximately $6 million in Team Nutrition Training Grants to support the implementation of nutrition education efforts in schools, including local school wellness policy development and assessment.
  • The Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program supports programs that aim to increase children's knowledge of agriculture and improve their nutritional health.
  • The 4-H Military Partnership Professional Development and Technical Assistance provides professional development and technical assistance to land-grant institutions and the Cooperative Extension System, in collaboration with other organizations, so they can develop and deliver educational programs for military-connected youth.
  • The International Agricultural Education Fellowship Program provides school-based agricultural education within secondary schools of priority countries, namely Ghana, Uganda, and Guatemala. Instruction includes lesson plans on various topics in agriculture, a few of which connect human nutrition to agriculture. Additionally, the program provides school garden demonstrations, animal husbandry, and conservation agriculture management practices training to support food security and sustainable nutrition.
  • Nutrition.gov provides children’s nutrition information, activities, and recipes. The popular Kids’ Corner features interactive websites, games, and worksheets to teach children about the importance of nutrition and physical activity.
All Life Stages
  • The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) funds various nutrition education efforts that reflect the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) provides direct education to SNAP eligible populations. SNAP-Ed also supports activities intended to shape policies, practices, and physical environments to support healthy eating. Such efforts are widely considered the most effective strategies for creating large-scale improvements to the food environment and addressing food security, reducing chronic disease, and promoting health equity. SNAP-Ed is available in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, and is delivered through a network of 168 implementing agencies, leveraging approximately 37,000 local partnerships. In fiscal year (FY) 2021, SNAP-Ed allocated $431 million to States to help those participating in or eligible for SNAP lead healthier lives.
  • MyPlate is the consumer translation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is helping consumers put the recommendations in action. MyPlate.gov is home to consumer tools and information to help Americans make healthier food choices.
  • Consumers can use the Shop Simple with MyPlate tool, found on MyPlate.gov, to find cost-saving opportunities in their local areas and discover new ways to prepare budget-friendly foods.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) programs use innovative methods to reach target audiences, such as Georgia’s mobile-friendly Food eTalk and Maryland’s Text2BHealthy, both of which have been adapted by other States. Program participants gave positive feedback for the targeted messages, short videos and the interactive lessons’ ability to give useful information “anytime, anyplace.”
  • USDA is engaging with and learning from Tribal nutrition education stakeholders about how to optimize, expand, and adapt nutrition education efforts to align with cultural values and preferences. USDA is committed to helping our Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) partners design and deliver nutrition education initiatives that reflect and include traditional foods and promote food sovereignty efforts. As part of this work, USDA will launch a nutrition paraprofessional training program to help our FDPIR partners build capacity for culturally inclusive nutrition education.
  • The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program is the Nation’s first nutrition education program for populations living below the Federal poverty line and remains at the forefront of nutrition education efforts to address food and nutrition security. The program operates through land-grant universities and uses hands-on learning, applied science, and program data to support participants’ health and well-being. It is proven to improve nutrition, stretch food dollars, and increase physical activity.
  • The New Technologies for Ag Extension provides funding for a cooperative agreement that contributes to “Enhancing Electronic Extension (E3).” E3 is a national web-based information and education delivery system. It engages land-grant institutions and the Cooperative Extension System to provide objective, scientific information to the public that answers questions and guides decisions, including information about the nutritional value of food in a changing climate context.
  • Nutrition.gov launched in 2004 to offer credible nutrition information from Federal and Cooperative Extension System sources to help consumers make healthful eating choices. In support of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, Nutrition.gov provides life stage nutrition resources for the public. To help the public achieve and maintain healthy eating patterns over time, the site also features online tools, recipes, and information about diet and health conditions.

Providing breastfeeding promotion and support

Mothers, Infants, and Young Children
  • Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants and could also reduce the risk for certain health conditions for both infants and mothers. In FY 2021, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provided nutrition counseling and breastfeeding promotion and support to about 1.4 million breastfeeding participants through 9,000 WIC clinics across the country. In the last two decades, the percentage of infants participating in WIC who were breastfed increased from 50 to 72 percent. The percent of women enrolled in WIC who initiate breastfeeding has also increased significantly over the last two decades; however, the breastfeeding rate among Black women continues to be about 10 percentage points lower than white women. Continued efforts are needed to eliminate this racial disparity by removing any barriers to the supports provided by WIC.
  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) conducts a large-scale, longitudinal study of the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices, which follows mothers and their infants from the prenatal period until the child’s fifth birthday, regardless of their continued WIC participation status. At regular intervals, information is collected regarding early feeding practices; dietary intake; nutritional status and health; WIC awareness and utilization; maternal education, employment, and satisfaction with WIC services; and family utilization of childcare and other sources of support.
  • USDA released new Value Enhanced Nutrition Assessment (VENA) training videos and discussion guides, as part of the participant-centered, health outcome-based approach to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition assessment. The VENA is a required and essential part of WIC. It is used to determine eligibility through identifying nutrition risks and to personalize WIC nutrition services. It is the starting point for designing all WIC nutrition services.

 

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