Vilsack details nutrition security measures

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In a speech at Columbia University, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack laid out a vision of nutrition security and the Agriculture Department’s actions to promote the concept. Vilsack contrasted nutrition security to food security, which focuses on the quantity and steady supply of food available to Americans. Nutrition security, according to Vilsack, builds on food security and means consistent access to healthy, safe, affordable food in order to optimize health.

In tandem with Vilsack’s speech, USDA released a report entitled “USDA Actions on Nutrition Security.” An accompanying infographic illustrates the administration’s strategy for nutrition security, which Vilsack said rests on four pillars:

  1. Providing nutrition support throughout all stages of life
  2. Connecting all Americans to healthy, safe, affordable food sources
  3. Developing, translating and enacting nutrition science through partnerships
  4. Prioritizing equity every step of the way

Vilsack did not make major new programmatic announcements in the speech, but connected various ongoing USDA grant programs, regulatory initiatives and research to his theme of nutrition security. These include:

  • Updating the Thrifty Food Plan that is the basis for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Revisions to food packages in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children to provide more fruits and vegetables
  • Long-term school nutrition standards
  • Promoting nutrition education through WIC, the education component of SNAP (SNAP-ED), MyPlate and other programs
  • Funding farm-to-school programs, the use of local foods in school and other nutrition programs, and developing fruit and vegetable boxes for The Emergency Food Assistance Program
  • Improving USDA’s service to communities of color and other underserved groups

The COVID-19 pandemic, Vilsack said, illustrated the linkage between nutrition security and health. Two-thirds of hospitalizations for COVID were of people affected by obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. He also noted that poor nutrition is connected to the leading causes of illnesses that kill 600,000 Americans annually. Among these, type 2 diabetes alone adds $147 billion in health care and societal costs.