Thursday, May 24, 2012

Latina Bloggers Policy Briefing: Department of Agriculture

This is the second article in a series relaying information obtained during a White House briefing on issues relating to Latinos in the U.S.

Lisa Pino is the Deputy Administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program under the Department of Agriculture. During Monday’s briefing, she shared some of the programs currently available to families and individuals.

Ms. Pino began by listing some of the nutrition assistance programs that the federal government offers such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school meal programs, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Though they are funded by the federal government, these services are administered at state levels and Ms. Pino said these programs are the most effective mechanisms available to fight hunger and obesity, two seemingly opposing problems that our society faces. But the reality is that they are both intimately linked as poor families often do not make wise food consumption choices, preferring to purchase inexpensive products that are high in fats and sugars. Malnutrition leads to obesity.

Ms. Pino stated that 1 in 4 Latino children are nutritionally insecure. In fact, Latino children make up the largest share of American children living in food insecurity.

And 1 in 2 Latinos suffer from diabetes. That means HALF of the Latino babies born today will develop diabetes.

We are experiencing an epidemic among Latino children. (For more information about this, please watch this super informative video I posted back in March.)

Ms. Pino also said that the president is committed to ending hunger and obesity for children, and cited the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that the president signed into law in 2010. According to the USDA’s website, the legislation "authorizes funding and sets policy for USDA's core child nutrition programs: the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program."

The act is designed to improve diets in schools and parents/children will begin to see changes starting this fall in terms of portion control, more fruits and vegetables, etc, in school lunches.

Special note: Listed above is the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), of special importance because it is during the summer months that children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. This program provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income areas get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow, throughout the summer months when they are out of school. Learn more here.

Ms. Pino also talked for a while about SNAP and said it was the country’s largest anti-hunger program. But unfortunately, it only serves about 56% of Latinos who are eligible to receive assistance.

So as a result, the USDA has launched an initiative called La Mesa Completa. It is designed to engage Latino families to improve their access and increase their participation in the programs that are available. The program tackles the main issues that prevent Latino families from using the services. For example, because low literacy rates may prevent Latinos from learning about the services, La Mesa Completa relies heavily on word-of-mouth information. Read more about the initiative here.

The USDA also chucked the food pyramid model and replaced it with the new My Plate/Mi Plato symbol and educational tool designed to help families make healthy meal choices. The guidance system is much more attractive and easier for families to incorporate into their daily routine. The English website is very well developed. It is a great source of information, printable materials, and even a SuperTracker that helps families plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity. A lot of the information is also available in Spanish. Anyone can order Mi Plato information for home or school use and receive it free of charge.

Personally, I think a great way to disseminate the information would be for teachers to use the coloring sheets in their classrooms, or assign them as homework so that the information travels home where parents might see it.

I hope you all take a moment to check out some of these resources and share them with those you know.

Up next...the Let's Move program!

Disclosure: This information was obtained during a special White House policy briefing for Latina bloggers organized by LATISM. I was awarded a full scholarship to attend the retreat of which the briefing was one aspect, and appreciate the sponsors that made it possible.


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