National efforts to improve nutrition gaining momentum
February 7, 2011
Recent food and nutrition initiatives from the Obama Administration are drawing acclaim from Arnold School nutritionist and assistant professor Dr. Sonya Jones.
First Lady Michelle Obama's visit to Fort Jackson on Jan. 27 and her endorsement a week earlier of a program by retail giant Wal-Mart to offer more healthful foods represent important developments in national nutrition policy, said Jones, who briefed public health professionals and students on federal nutrition efforts at a recent seminar.
"It's been really exciting that the Obama Administration has taken a leadership role on nutrition issues, especially with Michelle Obama and the Let's Move initiative," she said.
The initiatives also mirror public health efforts to deal with the obesity issue in South Carolina where 65 percent of adult residents are obese or overweight, said Jones, who is deputy director of the USC Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities.
The nation's First Lady has endorsed an effort by Wal-Mart to make thousands of the packaged food items that it sells more healthful and affordable by 2015, build more stores in underserved areas and increase its charitable donations to nutrition programs.
The plan includes reducing sodium and sugar in some foods, lowering prices on produce and developing a logo to enable customers to more easily identify healthful items.
At Fort Jackson, the First Lady saw examples of the U.S. Army's efforts to implement the first major overhaul of new recruits' diet in decades, an overhaul that includes replacing soda fountains with milk and juice dispensers and introducing whole-grain bread and pasta. Fort Jackson has led the way, winning awards for their efforts to improve the training soldiers' diets, Jones said.
Physical training has been changed too. Bayonet drills have been replaced by zigzag sprints, pugil stick workouts and stepped-up calisthenics to increase power, strength and agility, she said.
The U.S. Army has seen the physical health of its recruits declining since the 1970s, the consequences of poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles, Jones said.
In addition to reaching recruits how to march and shoot, drill sergeants should be modeling healthy eating, calling out soldiers who don't put enough fruits and veggies on their plates, and encouraging the concept that soldiers are "warrior athletes," she said, noting that research under way at the Arnold School focused on ways to help the U.S. Army improve the fitness and nutrition levels of its soldiers.
Mrs. Obama has made obesity and nutrition her signature effort, beginning last year with the launch of the Let's Move! campaign. Let's Move! is aimed at eliminating childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
Jones said other nutrition efforts with implications in South Carolina include:
- The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a $400 million plan to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities.
Many children and adults in South Carolina live in the "underserved communities" that the program will address. Altogether, an estimated 23 million Americans (8.5 percent) have limited access to full-service markets.
Funds for the program will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of the Treasury
- The Food Safety Modernization Act is an important step to enhance the safety of food produced in America and imported from overseas and to prevent food-borne illness, Jones said.
The $1.4 billion bill mainly expands the reach and regulatory powers of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA oversees production of all food products with the exception of meat, poultry and dairy, which fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- The Farm to School Network, organized under the auspices of the South Carolina departments of agriculture, education, and health and environmental control is linking 85 public schools to nearby farmers to improve the quality and freshness of school meals.
In addition to the nutritional benefits, the Network also teaches students about waste management programs, like composting, and supports programs, such as planting school gardens, cooking demonstrations and farm tours.
The Network is supported in part by a $2.4 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Jones worked with partners in Lower Richland to write a proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a research project in the Richland County community of Eastover.
The goal is to study the impact of teaching rural residents how to produce more of their own food, beginning with starting their own seedlings in greenhouses.
Jones, who grew up in the North Carolina mountain community of Hendersonville, has been a faculty member of the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior since 2005. She earned her doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.