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USDA official stresses need for nutrition in school food

By BRITTANY GIVENS This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. January 28, 2012

PORTSMOUTH — U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin W. Concannon said school lunch programs should be providing children with more fruits and vegetables.

"We have a serious problem of obesity in the country," Concannon told a group of local nutrition and health services professionals Friday. "We really need to focus on activity and healthy foods."

Concannon was the featured speaker in a roundtable discussion at Community Campus. The event was attended by representatives from programs such as St. Vincent's, Southern New Hampshire Services and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Participants discussed ways in which schools could improve lunches and how the USDA has been able to help people in tough economical times.

This week, 101,000 schools across the country celebrated a nutrition week by improving the dietary value of school lunch programs.

Concannon discussed ways that the USDA plans to take these efforts further and shared reasons for the program's success. He said that one of the USDA's major goals is to improve the diets of Americans from birth.

Representatives from local nutrition organizations voiced concerns over the current situation in schools. Many were concerned with the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in schools and wanted to see less canned foods and sugar.

Other concerns included a need for more storage space for fruits and vegetables, as well as easier and cheaper ways to provide milk and meat.

Concannon also spoke about USDA's efforts to help those who cannot afford to eat healthy.

"We're living through a ... tough time in the economy," Concannon said. "I've been to food banks and pantries and I always hear, 'I never thought I'd be here.'"

The USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has helped 46 million people, Concannon said.

"For people who have been shy to ask for help, they are still able to get it," Rockingham County Action coordinator Patte Ardizzoni said.

The event was presented by Southern New Hampshire Services' Rockingham County arm, Rockingham Community Action, and hosted by the Foundation for Seacoast Health.

Reprinted with permission

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