Healthy food and food systems
Federal programs affect the food we eat in many ways. While anti-hunger programs help millions of Americans living in poverty get enough food to eat, nutrition education helps Americans understand what we should, and shouldn't, eat to remain healthy. And federal farm programs support the farmers who grow our food and the systems that move the food from farms to our communities.
These programs play a critical role in combating hunger. Despite the wealth of resources in the United States, 48.8 million Americans are at risk of hunger: one in six adults and one in five children. Particularly in tough economic times, many of those living in poverty depend upon federal nutrition assistance programs to feed themselves and their families. The majority of those who receive this assistance are children, the elderly or people living with a disability. These recipients also include individuals with low-wage, full-time jobs and military families. For these families, assistance programs, including the (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the federal school lunch program, are the last line of defense against poverty. U.S. food assistance plays a role in reducing hunger around the world through emergency food and sustainable development assistance programs that provide short- and long-term solutions to global poverty. Federal nutrition programs not only aid direct need, but help create long-term self-sufficiency and reduce poverty.
In recent years, many in the public health community have become increasingly concerned about not only whether Americans have enough to eat, but also whether we are eating a healthy diet. Growing rates of obesity, particularly among children, have raised concerns about whether children are eating enough healthy food. In some cases, poor diet is linked to a lack of access to fresh and healthy foods: So-called "food deserts" in both urban and rural communities lack stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, and the heavily processed, low-cost food sold at these stores is not the basis of a healthy diet.
These concerns have led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop new programs to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to public school cafeterias (which also benefits the local farmers who grow them) and to address urban and rural food deserts with innovative programs such as farmers' markets and cooperative supermarkets (which, again, give local farmers a new outlet for their produce). A program begun in 2008 allows SNAP recipients to use their electronic benefit cards at farmers' markets, thereby ensuring that families living in poverty have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And programs that support community gardens (some of them on church grounds!) are teaching people to grow their own fruits and vegetables.