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Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan Announces Childhood Obesity Prevention Grant to North Carolina State University

Investment in prevention program honors the commitment of First Lady's Let's Move! initiative

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

RALEIGH, N.C., Feb. 9, 2011 – Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced a grant to North Carolina State University (NCSU) to develop an obesity prevention program that increases access to healthy food and safe places for physical activity. The announcement was delivered as part of the anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s the Let’s Move! initiative.

“One year ago, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! initiative with a goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity in generation so that kids born today will grow up healthier and better able to pursue their dreams,” Merrigan said. “Today we build on that commitment and I am pleased to announce this award as part of our efforts to create healthy communities and healthy families in North Carolina and across the country.”

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $3,026,939 to NCSU researcher Sarah Bowen, who will work to gain a better understanding of how the “food environment” — which includes social, cultural, political, economic and environmental factors — affects patterns of childhood obesity. The project will interview low-income mothers about their food practices and perceptions to understand how they promote childhood obesity. The research will then be incorporated into the Faithful Families project, a special project of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, to work with community leaders and organizations to develop community-driven, culturally appropriate environmental and policy changes that increase access to healthy foods and safe places for physical activity within communities.

Most of the recent research on obesity has focused on individual eating behaviors. While this research is important, it largely ignores the sociological problems behind childhood obesity. This project will address the wider structural factors that contribute to the drastic increases in obesity, particularly among low-income populations. Looking at all environmental factors will help drive community-led proposals for concrete environmental and policy changes to address these problems.

Improving child nutrition is also a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that passed Congress and was signed by President Obama on December 13, 2010.  This legislation authorizes USDA’s child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, which serve nearly 32 million children each day.  It will allow USDA, for the first time in over 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 millions of children.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. February marks the one year anniversary of Let’s Move!, a comprehensive initiative with a goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles. This Obama administration priority is fundamentally changing the conversation about how we eat and stay active, helping to ensure future generations are ready to win the future. Learn more by visiting www.LetsMove.gov.

NIFA made the awards through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funding opportunity. AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.  More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.

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