Turning the Tide on Early Childhood Obesity

usda-my-plate-kidsDr. Janey Thornton, Native News Network

WASHINGTON – Here at USDA, we’re on a mission to help all of our nation’s children have the best possible chance at a healthy life. So, we’re very encouraged by some recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: the rate of obesity among low income preschool children appears to be declining for the first time in decades.

The declining rates show that our collective efforts are helping to gain ground on childhood obesity, particularly among some of the more vulnerable populations in our country. Low income children are often at a disadvantage when it comes to getting the food they need to grow up healthy, which is why USDA’s nutrition programs and resources are so vital.

USDA programs like WIC, with its new, healthier food package offerings, and CACFP, with its increasing emphasis on nutrition and physical activity are making a difference in the lives of millions of children. In addition, educational materials like Healthy Eating for Preschoolers and Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children can help adults get children off to the right start in life.

Our efforts don’t stop there. School aged children are now getting healthier and more nutritious school meals and snacks, thanks to changes implemented under the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Our Team Nutrition initiative provides nutrition education to help schools serve healthier meals and motivate kids to form healthy habits. We’re supporting healthy, local foods in schools through our Farm to School grant program. And we’re improving access to fresh produce and healthy foods for children and families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go before America’s childhood obesity epidemic is a thing of the past. Far too many, 1 out of every 8 preschoolers are still obese. And, obesity in these early childhood years sets the stage for serious health problems throughout the entire lifespan. But we at USDA are proud of our ongoing efforts to ensure the health of America’s next generation, and we know that these efforts are playing a vital role in turning the tide on early childhood obesity. Learn more about USDA’s efforts to improve child nutrition or visit choosemyplate.gov » for quick, easy nutrition and diet tips for families.

Dr. Janey Thornton is the Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the USDA.

Signs of decline in health of Puget Sound organisms

By Associated Press

SEATTLE — Despite improvements in the most industrialized and populated areas of the Puget Sound, a new report issued Tuesday by the Washington Department of Ecology shows the overall health of the state’s broadest waterway is declining in at least one way.

Sediment health in the central sound — from just south of Whidbey Island to the Tacoma Narrows — has deteriorated over the past decade, according to the report, which has some scientists who closely monitor the watershed wondering what they’ve been missing.

The study of sediment pulled from the bottom of the sound in 2008 and 2009 found a decline in sediment-dwelling life — known as benthic invertebrates — in 28 percent of the region, compared with 7 percent of the region in results from 1998 and 1999.

The results were surprising in contrast with other recent health checkups for the Puget Sound, which have shown improvements such as a decrease in toxic chemicals. Scientists also have found a decrease in concentrations of lead, mercury, silver, tin and other toxics in the central sound sediment.

It is possible scientists have not been looking deep enough or broad enough for other environmental problems, said Rob Duff, manager of the Ecology Department’s environmental assessment program.

“We don’t measure everything. We measure dozens and dozens of chemicals we are concerned about,” Duff said, adding, “There are thousands and thousands of chemicals in commerce today.”

Emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products may be responsible for the decline in the number and variety of small creatures within the Puget Sound’s sediment, Duff said, but there are other possible causes.

The decline in the number and variety of small creatures in the sediment also result from natural influences, such as the normal population cycles of sediment-dwelling organisms, or sediment movement and changes in dissolved oxygen, pH and ammonia levels in the water above the sediments.

“One report only tells you a piece of the puzzle,” cautioned Jan Newton, an oceanographer from the University of Washington who was not involved in this Ecology Department study.

The health of Puget Sound is so multi-faceted — from toxics to habitat to climate change — it’s difficult to talk about its overall health, she said, adding, “definitely, there’s reason for concern.”

Meanwhile, the health of Elliott Bay in Seattle and Commencement Bay in Tacoma has been shown signs of improving health, with decreases in chemicals found and water chemistry overall.

That suggests years of port cleanup and storm water management seem to be working, said Maggie Dutch, lead scientist for the sediment monitoring program.

But the contrasting results also suggest the need for more research, she added.

“We’re thinking that there are other things happening,” Dutch said. “It could be things that we also have an influence on.”

This kind of report shows the importance of continuing to monitor the sound as a tool for figuring out what else needs to be done to clean up the water, Ken Dzinbal, who represents the Puget Sound Partnership on the monitoring program.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of addressing big issues like storm water,” he said. “There still might be something else out there that we haven’t addressed.”

— The Associated Press