WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a $25 million grant to the University of Hawaii to develop obesity prevention strategies among native populations in the Pacific Region, continuing USDA's commitment to meet the rising challenge of obesity in the United States, especially in American youth.
"We know that in order to win the future, we have to win the race to educate our children. That means that our kids must be healthy so they can learn and thrive," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Improving childhood nutrition remains a key priority of the Obama Administration as we work to ensure our kids are ready to out-compete in an increasingly globalized world."
The five-year research project will use a community-based participatory research approach that engages communities to prioritize obesity prevention strategies. Researchers will work with communities to develop community needs assessments and establish sustainable nutrition and health-promoting programs. Specifically, the team will identify specific environmental factors leading to childhood obesity in selected schools and daycare facilities. Intervention strategies will be attuned to culturally-specific needs and goals, and focus on physical activity, nutritional intake and the amount of sleep children get each night.
The project will train 22 specialists in food, nutrition and public health and develop research and evaluation methods that will help young children maintain healthy weight and prevent obesity. Dr. Rachel Novotny at the University of Hawaii will lead the project team, which includes scientists from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; the University of Alaska, Anchorage; Northern Marianas College; the University of Guam; American Samoa Community College; the College of Micronesia; Windward Community College, Kaneohe, Hawaii; and the University of Hawaii Kapiolani Community College.
The grants are awarded through USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and administered through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. AFRI's childhood obesity prevention supports single-function research, education and extension projects and multi-function integrated research, education and extension projects. AFRI is USDA's flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.
Improving child nutrition is a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was signed by President Obama in December 2010. This legislation reauthorizes USDA's child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 32 million children each day. It will allow USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children. Investigating science-based interventions and studying obesity in children can also strengthen these programs. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. To learn more, visit www.LetsMove.gov.
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.