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USDA Awards Temple University Grant to Reduce the Prevalence of Childhood Obesity

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

PHILADELPHIA, March 22, 2011 – Today, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced a grant to Temple University to prevent obesity among low-income pre-schoolers by teaching mothers simple strategies to promote healthy food choices and portion sizes to their children.  Roger Beachy, Director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) unveiled the grant on behalf of Secretary Vilsack at an event at Temple University this morning.

“We know that to win the future, we have to win the race to educate our children and that means that our kids must be healthy,” said Vilsack. “Improving childhood nutrition remains a key priority of the Obama Administration as we work to ensure our kids are ready to out-compete in an increasingly globalized world.”

“Instilling healthy eating habits at an early age is an investment in our nation’s children to help them grow up and win the future,” said Roger Beachy, NIFA director. “NIFA supports sound scientific research that will reverse the trend of rising obesity rates and help children and their families adopt healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.”

NIFA awarded the $3.7 million grant to support the work of Dr. Jennifer Orlet Fisher, Associate Professor of Public Health and Director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University. Elena Serrano, Associate Professor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech, will partner with Fisher on the grant. The project’s goal is to develop obesity prevention strategies that focus on adjusting portion size to lower the amount of fat and sugar in children’s diets.

Fisher’s project consists of three parts: the researchers will talk with mothers to learn how various factors – socioeconomic, socio-cultural, and structural – influence parental strategies for establishing portion size for their children. They will then develop and clinically test a behavioral intervention for mothers and their children. The project will ultimately be implemented in an urban community in Virginia as part of the SNAP-Ed program, an extension of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides schools with nutrition education.

“Low-income individuals are some of the hardest hit by obesity,” said Fisher.  “And we know that preventing obesity in childhood is critical, so we want to implement a program that will help mothers promote healthy child behaviors as early as possible, to reduce the risk of obesity later.”

The grant was awarded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI’s research grants for studies of childhood obesity prevention support single-function research, education and extension projects; multi-function integrated research, education and extension projects; and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) grants. The long-term goal of this program is to reduce the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

During National Nutrition Month in March, USDA encourages people to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat milk in their meals each day.  These recommendations are included in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that were recently released by USDA and HHS, which focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.  Through its nutrition assistance programs, USDA also promotes access, resources and pathways for low-income Americans to lead a more healthful lifestyle.

Improving child nutrition is also a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was signed by President Obama in December 2010. This legislation reauthorizes USDA'S child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, which serves 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. To learn more, visit www.LetsMove.gov.

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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