(KMAland) – The nation’s food security is a major concern in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Speaking at Teacher’s College at Columbia University in New York, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency is also concerned about nutritional security.
“What is nutritional security? We know what food security means. We know what it means in terms of being able to provide people with sufficient resources to be able to go to the grocery store and be able to buy what they need to feed their family. But what does it mean to be nutritionally safe? Well, I think that means consistent access, not once in a while, but consistent access to food that is healthy as well as safe and affordable. Food that is designed to provide optimal health benefits and well-being of those who consume it. “
He says nutritional security concerns grew during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We learned from this pandemic, the link between nutritional security and health. It was surprising to me, and perhaps it was surprising to some of you, that two thirds of the COVID-related hospitalizations that occurred and occur have been related to obesity. “Diabetes, hypertension, heart failure; these are all diet-related conditions. In other words, malnutrition is the leading cause of diseases that take over 600,000 lives each year.”
Diet-related diseases do not only affect the health of the individual. They also have economic and financial costs.
“There are economic costs to malnutrition. Just take diabetes: $ 147 billion. That’s roughly equivalent to the entire Department of Agriculture budget for just one diet-related disease. And don’t consider the loss of productivity, the loss of quality of life associated with diet-related diseases. So COVID was basically a wakeup call. “
Vilsack says the agency is taking steps to integrate nutritional security into its food aid programs.
“I mentioned the review of the Thrifty Food Plan. Part of the reason we did this is that we surveyed people, and what we found was that at the end of the month, people who received supplementary nutritional aid at the end of the month, difficult decisions.They were not financially able to decide if they wanted to buy the fruit and vegetables that they knew they would buy but could not.So we looked at the Thrifty Food Plan, and we increased it.We are looking for ways to improve the WIC package, constantly looking at ways in which we take science and make sure that we expand, change and transform that WIC package, and expand knowledge and awareness about WIC, “so many who qualify for the program participate in the program. And when they do, they have a wide range within this package that exposes them to fruits and vegetables that they may otherwise never know.”