The USDA was busy yesterday rolling out its new MyPlate message, “Make Half Your Plates Fruits and Vegetables,” and releasing the 2010 Household Food Security Report. These announcements highlight two of America’s largest food issues: the lack of easily accessible food for all Americans due to factors such as unemployment and food deserts, and the persistence of cheap, unhealthy food that encourages poorer Americans to reach for a bag of chips over an apple.

The MyPlate themed message — “Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables” — reinforces the visual imagery of MyPlate and does away with the often confusing language of portion sizes. According to the USDA, future themed messages will include: Enjoy Your Food, But Eat Less; Drink Water Instead of Sugary Drinks; Make at Least Half Your Grains Whole Grains; and Avoid Oversized Portions.

National strategic partners of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) will promote the Make Your Plate Half Fruits and Vegetables message with creative marketing initiatives each weekday in September. As food writer Jane Black points out in her June article about the release of MyPlate, the new icon’s simple and straightforward approach is reminiscent of U.S. food campaigns during World War II, which advised Americans to “know your onions” and “garden to cut food costs.” These direct messages were effective in the past and it appears that the USDA is hoping for repeated success with its new themed messages.

But direct nutritional messages are of little help if Americans are unable to purchase or access food. The 2010 Household Food Security Report revealed that the record high number of households that struggle to get enough food has remained steady in 2010. While 85.5 % of households had access to food during the year, 14.5 % (17.2 million households) did not. The food security report has been released annually since 1995, and its findings were particularly anticipated this year because of the high food prices and the First Lady’s emphasis on nutrition and food deserts.

While there wasn’t a notable change in the number of food-insecure households from last year, the number of households categorized as having “very low food insecurity” — in which there was no food in the house or meals were skipped on one or more occasions — decreased from 5.7% in 2009 to 5.4% in 2010. The decline is attributed to the fact that almost 60% of those households reporting very low food insecurity participated in one of the USDA’s three largest nutrition assistance programs. Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon told NPR in regard to nutritional assistance programs, “There’s no question in my mind that there would be catastrophic levels of people that were facing food insecurity without this.”

Even with the success of nutritional assistance programs, the USDA still has a lot of work to do to make healthy food affordable and to combat the nation’s growing obesity epidemic (nearly 1/3 of American adults are obese).