“I applaud USDA's decisions to increase servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cereals low in sugar, and healthy beverages, including breastfeeding,” said Ritchie, who has devoted her career to the development of interdisciplinary, science-based and culturally relevant solutions to child obesity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new nutrition standards in April for food and beverages served to young children and others in child care settings that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults receive nutritious meals and snacks at day care, afterschool centers and emergency shelters. The final rule is intended to better align the nutritional quality of meals and snacks provided under the program with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
At USDA's behest, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee of eminent nutrition researchers to develop science-based recommendations for CACFP meals and snacks that meet the challenge of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010: to align the CACFP standards with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“USDA has taken the IOM's recommendations and translated them into nutrition standards that help address obesity and overweight as well as food insecurity. The new standards are straightforward for childcare sponsors and providers and impose no new, added costs,” said Ritchie, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.
This update to CACFP standards is an important step toward ensuring that young children have access to the nutrition they need and develop healthy habits that will contribute to their well-being over the long term, Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary, said in announcing the new standards.
“Research indicates that America's obesity problem starts young, with obesity rates in preschoolers more than doubling over the last three decades and one in eight preschoolers classified as obese,” Concannon said. “Since taste preference and eating habits develop early in life, CACFP could play a crucial role in the solution.”
Ritchie, who has conducted studies on the impact of policy on nutrition practices in child care settings, thinks USDA's process for developing the new nutrition standards is effective.
“The new meal patterns demonstrate that the process for regularly updating nutrition standards in the federal food programs, using evidence-based IOM recommendations, is working well,” she said. “The new CACFP standards should make a significant beneficial contribution to the health and development of the nation's young children.”
The NPI director, who has led a push to persuade the government to make water the drink of choice in the dietary guidelines and add an icon for water on the MyPlate food guide, also praised USDA's authorization of reimbursement for the expenses involved in providing bottled water in the rare instances when tap water is not potable.
“UC Nutrition Policy Institute has a special commitment to expanding children's consumption of drinking water,” Ritchie said.
The UC Nutrition Policy Institute's mission is to improve nutrition and reduce obesity, hunger and chronic disease risk in children and their families in diverse settings. NPI provides nutrition policy leadership built from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' numerous research, and education activities, and works in synergy with research and outreach efforts being conducted throughout the University of California system.