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Vilsack outlines USDA’s commitment to nutrition security

Vilsack outlines USDA’s commitment to nutrition security
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on March 17 announced the agency’s commitment to advancing nutrition security, and the consistent access to safe, nutritious food that supports optimal health and well-being for all Americans.

The Actions on Nutrition Security report builds on the work USDA and its partners are doing to promote food security by increasing the agency’s focus on diet-related chronic diseases—a leading cause of death in the U.S. Nutrition security further emphasizes the importance of tackling long-standing health inequities. Research shows communities of color, families with children, and people in more isolated areas of the country, including Tribal communities, are disproportionally affected by the toll of diet-related chronic diseases.

USDA aims to leverage all its assets, in conjunction with those of other federal agencies, to support progress toward healthier eating patterns in an equitable way. Specifically, it is working within USDA and across the government with partners such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to elevate and promote nutrition security to help ensure all Americans have consistent access to the safe, healthy, affordable food essential to optimal health and well-being.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought food insecurity to the forefront of the national conversation and shined a new light on the devastating toll of chronic disease, with an estimated two-thirds of COVID hospitalizations in the U.S. related to diet-related diseases,” Vilsack said. “Across the department we recognize that food and health are inherently intertwined, and we’re leaning into our powerful tools to help reduce chronic disease, advance equity and promote overall well-being. We look forward to working with our stakeholders to achieve this vision.”

The plan outlines USDA’s four-pillar strategic approach to leveraging all its assets to move toward nutrition security for all Americans:

  • Meaningful support: Providing nutrition support throughout all stages of life.
  • Healthy food: Connecting all Americans with healthy, safe, affordable food sources.
  • Collaborative action: Developing, translating and enacting nutrition science through partnership.
  • Equitable systems: Prioritizing equity every step of the way.

According to the report, a key part of all four pillars is USDA’s nutrition assistance programs. When compared to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the average American diet earns a rating of 59 out of 100 points. Poor diet increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more. Beyond impacts on health, this also has negative effects on productivity, health care costs, military readiness and academic achievement.

USDA is engaged in several efforts to help improve Americans' diets, including:

  • Modernizing WIC to reach more eligible mothers and their children and better meet their nutritional needs through updated food packages that reflect the recommendations of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and the DGA.
  • Building on the success of the school meal programs by issuing transitional nutrition standards while engaging with stakeholders to update the standards in a way that reflects the latest science and works for people on-the-ground.
  • Helping SNAP participants make the most of their benefits, which were strengthened by the Thrifty Food Plan re-evaluation to ensure SNAP participants can afford a nutritious, practical diet.
  • Focusing on nutrition education efforts across all its nutrition assistance program—including SNAP-Ed, WIC breastfeeding support and promotion, and MyPlate—and ensuring they meet the needs of the diverse audiences they serve.
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