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USDA Under Secretary puts spotlight on healthy eating

Yesterday, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said food assistance programs are not only in place to fight hunger; they need to promote healthy eating, too.

USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon and Senator Al Franken joined School of Public Health researchers and community members for a roundtable discussion on healthy eating and consumer services programs.

Throughout the discussion, conversation bounced across a number of topics around healthy eating but gravitated naturally towards the needs of programs for children. The bottom line: ensuring children eat enough healthy, nutritious food is imperative.

Concern around the table originated with one simple fact: in Minnesota – as seen nationwide – the summer months often leave some children without meals that would otherwise be given to them at schools.

USDA Under Secretary roundtable

In particular, even though fruits and vegetables are plentiful in the summer months, not everyone has access to fresh food. Franken echoed Concannon in saying increased summertime food programs would address the lack of healthful food options in food deserts across the state.

Following the roundtable, The Under Secretary delivered a lecture titled, “Today’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Programs: Reducing the Effect of Poverty for Low‐income Families and Promoting Healthy Eating for all Americans.”

“It isn’t just about getting people on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), it’s about getting SNAP families to buy fruits and vegetables,” Concannon said in his lecture. “The gap in the American diet is fresh fruits and vegetables for all income levels.”

The USDA Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services has principal responsibilities and funding authority for Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which feeds an estimated one in four Americans, and has lead responsibilities for promoting healthful diet through the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

Working in partnership with state and local organizations, FNS oversees SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, which serves over 44 million American each month.

“We have the dual existence in this country — it seems like a paradox — of both food insecurity and/or hunger, and obesity,” said Concannon. “And that’s where the more we can systematically provide reliable access to healthy foods, for children for example, it’ll pay off marvelously for the country.”

For more on Concannon’s trip to the U of M, check out MPR’s coverage of the day.

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