USDA Awards Grants for Nutrition and Obesity Prevention Research

The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $2 million in grants today to support research on nutrition education and obesity prevention for disadvantaged children and families at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Utah State University. The funding will help create two new Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Centers of Excellence (RNECE), which have been established through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) andSupplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (SNAP)

National Institute of Food and Agriculture director Sonny Ramaswamy was quoted as saying “While we are beginning to see promising signs of progress with the epidemic leveling off in children, these grants will help evaluate and strengthen existing nutrition education and obesity prevention efforts to help ensure this progress continues.”

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville will receive $1 million to strengthen their existing Snap and EFNEP education programs for low-income families in particular. They will focus on reducing obesity by working to identify facilitators and barriers as well as training and evaluation needs.

In Utah, the State University in Logan will receive $1 million to look at EFNEP and SNAP-ed program participants and non-participants across many different ethnic and racial backgrounds in five states. The research will improve the USDA’s ability to create and maintine effective nutrition education programs and will, ideally, result in participants’ healthier food choices and increased physical activity. Improved health will reduce the incidents of disease and disability thus reducing the overall costs to individuals and the nation’s healthcare system.

“With one-third of our nation’s children overweight or obese, this issue stands out as one of the greatest health challenges facing our country,” said Audrey Rowe, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator. “As we invest in our nation’s health it is important we leverage partners and innovative strategies to help children from low-income families grow and develop into healthy adults.”

The RNECE were established in 2014 with one institution in each of NIFA’s administrative regions and one National Coordination Center, the result of a partnership between the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, NIFA and several participating universities. They exist primarily to research and develop best practices that address issues related to obesity among poor and underrepresented groups.

SNAP-ed, initiated in 1992 exists in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands. Nearly 100 agencies deliver the program including public health departments, food banks, non-profit organizations and others.

NIFA invests in agricultural research, education and extension and works every day to make discoveries that solve challenges in society. To learn more about NIFA, visit


Why the Food Pyramid is Outdated

Do you remember the food pyramid from you grade school days? You may be shocked to find out that it has remain nearly unchanged for decades despite the loads of nutritional discoveries unlocked by researchers over the years.

You may recall that grains (bread, pasta, rice) are situated at the base of this pyramid. For two decades, the United States Department of Agriculture itself recommended that upwards of half of your diet should be derived from from carbohydrates.

This is, by no means, good advice.  The American educational system as well as government sponsored organizations are not receptive to new information apparently. It takes years or even decades for them to amend their recommendations to reflect the information that is revealed and commonly accepted by the scientific community. This is quite travesty if you ask me.

USDAHowever, the USDA did introduce their “my plate” system that is, relative to the archaic food pyramid, quite great. In the My Plate system, United States of Department of Agriculture is recommending that vegetables and fruits account for about half of your diet and that grains make up a more reasonable 30%.

The USDA also is now recommending that protein make up of 20% up of your diet, a marked increase from their previous recommendations.

That said, there are a number of things that the USDA could have done better with regards to their “My Plate” system.

Firstly, the My Plate system does not feature healthy fats such as organic dairy products, nuts, and oils. These healthy fats serve as a vital component of a health diet and should be consumed much more than the old food pyramid recommends.

Secondly, grains should account for about a sixth or 15% of your diet. Research has shown that you should be try to eat grains for breakfast and after a workout.

Additionally, try to increase your protein take to about 35% from the recommended 20%. There are a number of benefits from consuming more protein such as decreasing body fat, increasing muscle, increasing the thermic effect of feeding, and more.