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U.S. Government Food Program Needs Improving: Report

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Healthier foods should be served to children and adults in day care facilities that get meals and snacks through a federally sponsored food program, a new U.S. government report says.

The report from the Institute of Medicine calls for more fruits and vegetables and less fat, salt and sugar.

Many of the most needy children and adults rely on the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Suzanne P. Murphy, chair of the committee that reviewed the food program, said during a Thursday morning press conference.

"The current CACFP guidelines and regulations, however, are based on nutrition and health guidance that is nearly 20 years old," she said.

Food insecurity -- the uncertainty of having enough food to meet a family's basic needs -- is rising in the United States, and childhood obesity is soaring, added Murphy, a researcher and professor at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

The report, titled Child and Adult Care Food Program: Aligning Dietary Guidance for All, calls for bringing the nutritional standards of the CACFP in line with the dietary guidelines used in other U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food programs, including the national school lunch and breakfast programs. The USDA funded the study.

CACFP is designed to help family day care homes, child-care and after-school centers, adult care programs, emergency shelters and other facilities to offer nutritious meals and snacks to people from low-income families.

Under the CACFP program, facilities are reimbursed for foods that meet CACFP standards.

About 3 million children and 114,000 adults received meals and snacks through the program in fiscal year 2010, according to the IOM.

In its recommendations, the IOM builds on existing CACFP standards, which set minimum amounts of foods in each meal and exclude soft drinks and candy.

The report also calls for:

  • One serving of fruit and two servings of vegetables in each meal.
  • More dark green and orange vegetables.
  • Fewer starchy vegetables.
  • No fried vegetables.
  • 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar.
  • No juices to kids under 1 year and only one serving a day for older kids and adults.
  • 50 percent of grains as whole grains.
  • Only one serving a week of baked or fried grains high in fat and sugar.
  • Limited use of salt, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars.
  • Lean meats.
  • More soy, beans, eggs, nuts and other meat alternatives.
  • For infants, only breast milk or formula until 6 months.
  • Whole milk for children until 2 years.
  • Low-fat milk (1 percent) for those over 2 years.

To accomplish these changes, the USDA will have to revamp the CACFP program to provide better menu planning and preparation, and to streamline the way CACFP monitors compliance with its standards and reimbursements, the IOM says.

Enacting the recommendations will increase expenses, Murphy said. For example, the costs for feeding children could jump as much as 44 percent, she said.

Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., said "it is encouraging to see the Child and Adult Care Food Program making healthy changes to its recommendations."

Requiring two vegetables at lunch and supper and fewer trans and saturated fats are good steps, she said.

Noting that many program participants rely on CACFP for most of their food intake, she said the changes could potentially have a significant impact on the health of these families.

But it remains to be seen whether funding and personnel will be provided to make the suggested changes, she said.

"In theory this report looks fine, but the reality is a long way down the road," she said. "In the meantime, parents and caregivers who are struggling financially need support and education at the community level on how to find and prepare affordable healthy foods for their families."

More information

For more information on a healthful diet, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

SOURCES: Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator, Center for Cancer Care, Griffin Hospital, Derby, Conn.; Nov. 4, 2010, teleconference with: Suzanne P. Murphy, Ph.D., R.D., researcher and professor, Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, Honolulu; Nov. 4, 2010, IOM report, Child and Adult Care Food Program: Aligning Dietary Guidance for All

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