Why should chronic disease prevention efforts focus on children? More Americans die from chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease or cancer) than communicable diseases (such as the flu or measles) annually, and the CDC reports heart disease and cancer as the top two causes of death, with more than 1.1 million deaths each year. Prevention is the best form of treatment and can even start as early as pregnancy or infancy, when adequate nutrition is vital to the growth and development of healthy children. In addition to nutrition education, food access is also essential during childhood and adolescence: Casey and Associates from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute declared that poverty and food insecurity are associated with high risk of development of chronic diseases in teenagers. To increase the health and longevity of children in the United States, it is critical that public health professionals, government agencies, and nonprofits create environments, systems, and policies that support nutrition education and food access and make the nutritious choice the easy choice.
On the national level, programs like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), WIC, and the National School Lunch Program play a significant role in the quality of food children and adolescents receive:
- More than 50% of Infants in the United States currently participate in (WIC) (USDA 2016)
- More than 70% of the 30.5 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program receive free or reduced lunch (FRAC 2016)
- SNAP currently reaches 43 million U.S. Citizens (FRAC 2016)
These programs provide an excellent foundation for additional programming at the local level. Here in DC, DC Greens’ Food Education team is collaborating with a number of partners, including the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the National Farm to School Network, and the District of Columbia Public Schools. We work to ensure that children understand fundamental nutrition concepts, are connected to their local food systems, have safe spaces to engage in physical activity, and have access to nutritious foods! Our food education programs empower teachers to incorporate gardening and nutrition education into their classroom curriculum and encourages collaboration with DC Central Kitchen, Revolution Foods, and Sodexo, DCPS’ food service provider, to improve the quality of food served at schools across the city! Through these programs and partnerships across all sectors, we are supporting chronic disease prevention with children at the center.
Want more information? Check out these articles:
WIC to 6 – More than 100k children age out of WIC before starting school
Benefits of Farm to School– Much more than fruits and vegetables
Good Food Purchasing Policy– Justice in the food system