SPRINGFIELD - Stressing the importance of a healthy diet and access to nutritious foods, Governor Rod Blagojevich today declared March Nutrition Month in Illinois. This year’s theme is “Improving Food Access and Providing Nutrition Education.”
“Many children in Illinois do not have access to enough food, let alone nutritious food,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “On the flip side, many children with access to good food don’t have healthy eating habits. Each case can lead to devastating outcomes. A lack of nutritious food can affect a child’s mental and physical development, while poor eating habits can lead to obesity and a variety of health problems. Our children’s health and well-being are dependent on our commitment to promoting food access and good eating habits at home, at school and in the community.”
According to the Illinois Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, more than 36 percent of Illinoisans are overweight, and 20 percent face health risks due to obesity. In addition, more than 13 percent of Illinois children are overweight. At the same time, 8.6 percent of Illinois households do not have routine access to adequate amounts of food.
Gov. Blagojevich’s work to address nutrition concerns in Illinois includes his November 2004 expansion of the Child and Adult Care Food Program to allow 19,000 family childcare home providers in Illinois to receive reimbursement for the cost of providing healthy meals and snacks to an additional 40,000 young children. Through this expansion, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), which oversees the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) that supplies child care subsidies for low income families in Illinois, now notifies the State Board of Education of all license-exempt providers serving children enrolled in the CCAP. Those providers now have access to meal reimbursement and other benefits, including meal planning and nutrition guidelines.
In January 2005, Gov. Blagojevich signed the Childhood Hunger Relief Act, requiring all Illinois schools in which at least 40 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch to also provide a breakfast meal. The Illinois Hunger Coalition, which has worked for four years to pass the Childhood Hunger Relief Act, reports that students who are properly nourished at the start of the school day perform academically higher in class and on standardized tests, are more alert, have fewer visits to school nurses, have lower rates of tardiness and have lower rates of behavioral disorders.
IDHS is partnering with the Illinois Interagency Nutrition Council this month to raise awareness about the benefits of good nutrition.
“We’re partnering with the Interagency Nutrition Council because cross-program collaboration is the best way to address obesity and nutrition issues to promote healthy eating and physical activity in Illinois,” said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. “Our hope is that we can spread our message to adults, teens, and children through a variety of outreach efforts.”
The Illinois Department of Human Services administers several USDA Food and Nutrition Programs, including Food Stamps, the Emergency Food Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and the WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs.
The Interagency Nutrition Council (INC) includes representatives from DHS, agencies that work with the USDA Food and Nutrition Programs, and non-profit organizations involved in hunger prevention. INC’s mission is to promote health and wellness through nutrition education, coordination of services and access to nutrition programs. The INC coordinates promotion, outreach, and nutrition education projects across the state.
IDHS and the INC will also collaborate with the Teen REACH program to promote healthy eating habits among teenagers through life-skill building activities. These activities will be offered to all Teen REACH youth. “Young people involved in Teen REACH programs will have the opportunity to learn about healthy eating, fitness and body image,” said Secretary Adams.
The public learned about state programs that prevent hunger and provide nutrition education Tuesday at the Statehouse Nutrition Fair. Displays available in the Capitol Rotunda from the following state agencies and organizations included:
Department on Aging
Department of Agriculture
State Board of Education
Department of Public Health
Department of Human Services
University of Illinois Extension
Illinois School Food Service Association
Illinois Food Bank Association,
Illinois Hunger Coalition
Illinois Community Action AssociationSt. Louis District Dairy Council