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Cross-Agency Partnership Explores the Intersection Between Nutrition Security and Behavioral Health and Wellness

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By Gina O’Brian, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Regional Lead Nutritionist

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Mountain Plains Region is in year three of a collaborative partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to facilitate The Food and Mood Project.

The link between consistent access to nutritious food sources and children/youth behavioral health is well-documented. The goal of The Food and Mood Project is to promote behavioral health, and reduce the impact of mental health and substance use issues through identifying and implementing strategies that address the intersection between nutrition security and behavioral health and wellness.

The Food and Mood Project launched in January of 2021 with a Food and Mood Town Hall. This has since led to a series of learning collaboratives for state and community behavioral health, education, nutrition, food insecurity, and related experts working in the combined Mountain Plains Regional Offices and SAMSHA regions. Two strategies the group supports are the USDA’s Farm to School Program and the CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model to promote youth emotional wellness and to address behavioral health problems, including those related to food insecurity and the lack of access to culturally diverse food.

Moving forward, the Food and Mood Project team will continue to review related research, identify, and share best practices demonstrating work under the Pillars of Food and Mood:

  • Equitable access to resources – flexible funding to enable equitable access to nutritious, culturally appropriate foods, and emotional wellness related services.
  • Multi-disciplinary community engagement – a change in the perspective of mental health at the community level that engages with social determinants of health.
  • Holistic and culturally informed curriculum – the implementation of culturally-appropriate Food and Mood learning opportunities, or curriculums that promote food and emotional wellness.
  • An inclusive, normalizing public dialogue – a decrease in stigma behind food and emotional wellness through public education, national campaigns, and thoughtful public dialogue.
Page updated: November 22, 2023