Federal Nutrition Programs Remain Critical Says LSU AgCenter Nutritionist

Annrose M. Guarino  |  4/19/2005 10:28:40 PM

News You Can Use For March 2004

Federal nutrition programs – food stamps, WIC and child nutrition programs like school lunch and breakfast – historically have protected the nation’s most vulnerable people from severe hunger and malnutrition. "Today, federal nutrition programs continue to be critical," says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Annrose Guarino.

The programs are critical for health, education and economic well-being and are important lifelines for families struggling at low-wage jobs, according to the nutritionist, who adds, "Federal nutrition programs provide access to food, and evidence shows that each of the major federal nutrition programs improves nutrition."

The Food Stamp Program is the largest nutrition assistance program. Each dollar in food stamps increases a household’s Healthy Eating Index score (an indicator of overall dietary quality). What may surprise some, the program provides only 79 cents per person per meal, on average.

"Food Stamp benefits are low, and because food stamp households have limited incomes (nearly 90 percent live below the poverty level), it is very challenging for them to purchase an adequate diet," Guarino says, noting, "Many recipients run out of food stamps and money to buy food before the end of each month and face cycles of food availability and restraint, or go without a balanced diet and live on a few inexpensive staples for the month."

Statistics show that children who participate in the school lunch and breakfast programs, compared with students who participate in neither program, consume more than twice as many servings of milk and of fruits and vegetables combined and only one quarter the number of servings of soda and fruit-flavored drinks.

Increasingly, the programs offer more healthful meals with a variety of foods and appropriate portion sizes. Nutrition problems in the school cafeteria often come from the dining environment – less nutritious foods from vending machines, a la carte lines offered in competition with the federal lunch program, the lack of time and space to eat and long lines.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides specific foods geared to supplement key nutrients intake of low-income women, infants and children. WIC has been shown to improve the dietary intake of pregnant and postpartum women and young children.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides nutritious meals and snacks to children in child-care programs. Research shows that children who receive CACFP meals and snacks have higher nutrient levels, consume more servings of milk and vegetables and fewer servings of fats and sweets, than children who do not participate in the childcare feeding programs.

For local information and educational programs in related areas of family and consumer sciences, including nutrition and health, parenting and family economics, visit the Family and Consumer Sciences Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension/Departments/fcs/.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension/Departments/fcs/

Source: Annrose Guarino (225) 578-1425, or Aguarino@agcenter.lsu.edu

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