Category Archives: USDA

Sep 20 2012

Public Health Leaders Play Key Role in Improving Child Nutrition

GUEST POST by Virgie Townsend, JD, associate editor at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon was recently eating lunch with elementary school students in Louisiana when a first-grader leaned over to him and said, “Sir, if you don’t finish your broccoli, I’ll finish it for you.”

In a session at the recent ASTHO Annual Meeting, Concannon cited this as one example of the progress being made in the fight against the obesity epidemic, applauding schools for creatively modifying their healthy recipes to appeal to kids. USDA aims to ensure that children receive fruits and vegetables at every meal, while still reducing trans fats and sodium in the food, said Concannon. Another school he visited adds a bit of green gelatin to their cups of applesauce—just enough to give the applesauce a hint of color, which makes it a popular lunch choice for the students, a large majority of whom come from impoverished backgrounds.

“Our goal is to ensure that Americans routinely have access to sound nutrition,” Concannon said. “We’re in the midst of an obesity crisis.”

Concannon discussed how USDA’s school lunch and breakfast programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and WIC are working to create healthier environments by providing children with nutritious food options in schools and at home. He also called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 “one of the most significant” recent advances for child nutrition, and said, “We are on the verge of the first major changes to school meals in 15 years.”

>>Read up on a first-of-its-kind health impact assessment on a federal rule that would require updating school nutrition standards for snacks and beverages to meet the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Although great strides have been made toward improving Americans’ access to healthy food, Concannon said USDA is seeking a greater partnership with public health leaders to promote wellness in schools.

“We would love to connect even more with [with public health officials] on wellness programs in schools,” he said. “We have huge challenges around obesity.”

He urged state health agencies to engage with schools on the entire wellness message, including promoting fitness at all levels of schooling.

In addition to reaching out to public health leaders at the ASTHO annual meeting, Concannon announced that USDA has begun working on dietary guidelines for children from birth to 2 years of age, which will be the first USDA guidelines to cover that age span. The new dietary guidelines will be released in 2015.

Following Concannon’s presentation, Hawaii Department of Health Director Loretta Deliana Fuddy described her agency’s partnership with the Hawaii Department of Education. She also gave examples of how Hawaii is enacting USDA’s recommendations on child nutrition, including training school cafeteria staff to be more creative in their healthy recipes, promoting breastfeeding, and forging strong relationships with community centers to address health inequities.

Jul 19 2012

Public Health News Roundup: July 19

AARP: Foreclosures Increase for Older Americans
A new study from the AARP Public Policy Institute has found that more than 1.5 million older Americans have lost their homes since 2007. In addition, the percentage of seriously delinquent loans—those in foreclosure and loans 90 or more days delinquent—increased from 1.1 percent in 2007 to 6.0 percent as of December 2011 for people age 50 and older, a more than five-fold increase. Unstable housing can put people at greater risk for many health issues. Read more on housing.

New York State Reports Increased Number of Pertussis Cases
Because of an increased number of pertussis (whooping cough) cases in New York State, the state’s health commissioner, Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, is urging state residents who are un-immunized and under-immunized to get vaccinated against the disease.

Preliminary figures for New York State report 970 cases so far in 2012, compared with 931 cases in all of 2011. There were 722 total cases reported in 2010, and 265 in 2009. Through June 4, 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the number of cases in the U.S. was nearly 44 percent higher than the number reported in the same period the prior year. In 2011 three infants died from complications of pertussis in New York. Later today, the CDC will issue an update on pertussis cases in Washington State, which has seen a significant rise in cases so far this year. Read more on infectious disease.

Continuing Drought Leads to 39 Additional Counties in 8 States Declared Natural Disaster Areas
The USDA this week designated 39 additional counties in eight states as natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. During the 2012 crop year, the Department of Agriculture designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas. The additional counties are in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming, and the USDA is currently reporting that 61 percent of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought.

Hot and dry conditions around the nation have damaged or slowed maturation of crops such as corn and land. Read more news from USDA.

Apr 25 2012

Public Health News Roundup: April 25

US Confirms Single Case of “Mad Cow”

The Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a dairy cow from central California. The USDA says the animal will be destroyed and had not been for slaughtered for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health. Additionally, according to USDA, milk does not transmit BSE.

Read more about the USDA.

Lung Association: US Air Quality Improving, Still Poses Health Risks

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report, released today, finds that in America’s most polluted cities, air quality was at its cleanest since the organization began releasing the report thirteen years ago as efforts continue to make environmental hazards.

However, the report shows that more than 40 percent of people in the U.S. live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health--127 million people are living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause serious health problems such as wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.

Read more on pollution.

Implanted Heart Devices May Pose Infection Risk

Implantable pacemakers or defibrillators may pose a risk for developing deadly infections, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study shows that more than 4.2 million people in the US had a permanent pacemaker or defibrillator implanted between 1993 and 2008, and that infections related to heart devices infections increased 210 percent during that time, according to the study.

The study authors say a contributing factor may be that some patients may have other medical conditions and be particularly vulnerable to developing infections.

Read more on heart disease.

See more public health news roundups.

Mar 28 2012

Daughters of the American Revolution Help DC School Kids Plant a Garden


Spring has sprung in the nation’s capital, and while the Cherry Blossoms are the most heralded bloom, the city is also awash in yellow forsythia, white apple blossoms, purple lavender and shovels and hoes at small and large plots of land across the area. One of those is a brand new garden at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus, a D.C. middle and high school.

The new garden is one of hundreds of People’s Gardens established by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack three years ago. The Columbia Heights garden has funding support from the D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution and planting expertise from volunteers at USDA. Students have been studying and preparing to plant their garden for a year, and it will include gathering spaces, a wildlife habitat garden and a fruit and vegetable production area. The produce will be used at school and donated locally.

Read a USDA blog post about the new garden.

Weigh In: How is your community supporting first-time gardeners?

Oct 3 2011

Public Health News Roundup: October 3

At Least Three Major Food Recalls Currently Underway

True Leaf, a California lettuce producer, is recalling at least 2,400 cartons of lettuce linked to the bacteria listeria, which has also been implicated in an outbreak linked to cantaloupes in over ten states. No illnesses have been reported from the recalled lettuce, however, the outbreak tied to recalled cantaloupes has resulted in at least 15 deaths and 82 illnesses. In a third recall, a California firm, Manning Beef, is recalling 80,000 pounds of beef products over possible E. coli contamination, according to the Department of Agriculture. For more food safety updates, read up here.

Likelihood of Diabetes Amputations Varies Across U.S.

A new study in the journal Diabetes Care finds that some areas in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas had the highest rates of diabetes-related foot and leg amputations among Medicare beneficiaries: about 7 to 8 per 1,000. Some areas in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and New Mexico, had much lower rates of 2.4 to 3.5 per 1,000. The national average is 4.5 per 1,000. There are no national guidelines and the study authors say some physicians may simply be seeing a higher rate of diabetes complications.

USDA Awards Grants to Train Young Farmers and Ranchers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced 36 grants totaling $18 million to organizations to provide training and assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers to help them run successful, sustainable farms. According to the USDA, the average age of America's farmers and ranchers is increasing and it is a critical time to train the next generation of American producers. Get more news from the USDA here.

Sep 14 2011

Public Health News Roundup: September 14

Loss of Employer-Based Health Insurance Increased in 2010

A new report from the Census Bureau shows that about 1.5 million fewer Americans were covered by employer health plans in 2010, while 1.8 million more people joined government assistance plans such as Medicaid.

USDA To Ban Sale of Raw Beef Containing Certain Types of E. Coli

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is prohibiting the sale of raw beef to consumers that contain six serotypes of E. coli. The sale of raw beef containing one strain of E. coli is already prohibited. The bacteria can cause severe illness and death. The USDA will begin testing for the six serogroups and enforcing the new policy on March 5, 2012. The agency also announced the launch of Food Safe Families, a consumer education campaign created in partnership with the Ad Council, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USDA Announces Nutrition and Physical Activity Grants

The Department of Agriculture has announced $6.4 million in funding to help children develop positive nutrition and physical activity habits that can lead to healthier lifestyles. The grants will provide nutrition education materials, resources for children and parents, and technical assistance and training for school food service providers and communities participating in the National School Lunch and Child and Adult Care Food Programs.

Pregnant Smokers Not Helped By Counseling Alone

A review of studies in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology finds that counseling alone does not help most pregnant smokers quit smoking. The authors say more research is needed on the use of nicotine replacement and other therapies during pregnancy.

World Health Organization Reports on Non-communicable Diseases

More than nine million of all deaths in developing countries that are attributed to chronic diseases occur before the age of 60, according to a new report from the World Health Organization.

Sep 13 2011

Public Health News Roundup: September 13

USDA Announces Enhanced 911 Services for Rural Areas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced changes in federal regulations that will help rural communities get advanced emergency communications services, including 911 access, to better respond to emergencies and disasters.

Patients Often Don’t Tell Doctors about Their Depression Symptoms

A new study in the journal Annals of Family Medicine finds that patients often don’t tell their doctors about feeling depressed. Reasons for not disclosing depression symptoms included thinking depression was not a topic a primary care physician was able to discuss and concern that they would be given a prescription for antidepressants.

Blacks Develop High Blood Pressure One Year Faster Than Whites

A new study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association finds that blacks, who are at risk for high blood pressure, develop the condition one year before whites and have a 35 percent greater chance of progressing from prehypertension to high blood pressure. Study authors also say that more aggressive treatment of prehypertension could narrow the gap in hypertension rates between blacks and whites.

Aug 23 2011

Public Health News Roundup: August 23

USDA Awards Grants to Provide Broadband to Rural Communities

The Department of Agriculture has awarded $103 million in funding for 23 projects to provide broadband services to unserved and underserved rural communities. Funding recipients include areas in Oklahoma damaged by a tornado earlier this year. "These loans and grants will bring the benefits of broadband, including new educational, business and public health and safety opportunities, to residents living in some of the most remote parts of [the U.S.],” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Hookah Use on the Rise in California

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health finds that hookah, a water pipe used to smoke tobacco, is on the rise in California. Study results showed that from 2005 to 2008, hookah use among all adults increased by more than 40 percent; by 2008, hookah use in California was much higher among young adults – 24.5 percent among men, 10 percent among women – than it was among all adults – 11.2 percent among men, 2.8 percent among women.

Drop in Hormone Use Results in Fewer Mammograms

A new study in the journal Cancer finds that that a decline in hormone therapy use, and therefore doctor visits, among women aged 50 to 64 years is linked with lower mammogram rates in that age group as well.

Extra Benefits Of Smoke-Free Policies: A Saving In Cleaning Costs

By implementing smoke-free rules throughout properties, owners of California multi-unit rental buildings could save up to $18 million a year statewide on the cost of cleaning apartments vacated by tenants who smoke, according to a new UCLA study.

Patients Getting Vital, Timely Heart Attack Care Increases

More than 90 percent of heart attack patients who require an emergency artery-opening procedure known as angioplasty are treated within the recommended 90 minutes, compared to less than half five years before, according to a new study in the journal Circulation.

Jun 2 2011

Public Health News Roundup: June 2

Health Disparities Persist In Every State

2010 State Snapshots, a new report from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, finds that while health quality has improved in many states, disparities for minorities and those with low incomes remain. The report looks at 100 health measures, such as diabetes-related foot care, and compares standings among states in a region, and against national averages.

USDA to Reshape How We See Dietary Nutrition

The decades-old food pyramid is on the way out. It is expected to be replaced with a plate-shaped icon that experts say better depicts the balance of food groups recommended in a healthful diet.

Treatment for Mental Health And Drug Addiction Would Reduce or Eliminate Prison Time for Many

Incarceration has grown by 600% in the last 40 years, often the result of untreated mental illness and addiction, according to a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Additionally, sexually transmitted diseases and other infectious illnesses acquired in prison pose a risk to the community after prisoners are released.

New Orleans Child is Number 500 To Be Left In A Car And Die of Heat Stroke

A three year old New Orleans child died this week after being left unattended in a vehicle according to a press release from Safe Kids USA. That death brings the total of children in the U.S. who have died of heat stroke while unattended in a vehicle to 500. Safe Kids USA has resources on its website to help reduce the risk of leaving a child in a car unattended.

Head Injuries During Childhood Can Prompt Violence

Young adults who have suffered a head injury are more likely than kids who didn’t sustain a similar injury to get into fights or engage in other violence, often within a year of the injury, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.

May 27 2011

Headed to a Picnic During Memorial Day? Take Karen with You


Ask Karen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s virtual safety adviser, now fits into a back pocket. In time for Memorial Day weekend and upcoming summer outings, the USDA has launched Mobile Ask Karen,which contains the same data as her desk-top version—nearly 1,500 questions and answers on food safety. (Q: “How should I store fresh-cut fruits and vegetables?” A: “…avoid leaving cut, peeled and cooked fruit and vegetables at room temperature for more than two hours.")

Mobile Ask Karen’s food safety Q&A library is currently available on an iPhone, iPad or Android smart phone. Weekday users can also use the app for live chats or to speak to an actual operator at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

"Hopefully, by sending Karen out to picnics, farmers markets, and backyard cookouts via people's smart phones, she'll be able to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses that usually increase in the summer months,” says Diane Van, the hotline’s manager.

Before the picnic, barbecue or fish fry, access Mobile Ask Karen, by going to on a mobile phone browser or go to to get the QR code to scan into your iPhone or iPad, or Android-powered device.