02/26/2012 10:39 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

NCLR and USDA Step Up to the Plate To Ensure Latinos Eat Healthier

Marta Sanchez is 30 years old with three small children and works two other jobs outside the home. She often runs to the store in between jobs to buy groceries. She knows how important it is for her and her kids to eat right, but with her very hectic schedule, she barely has time to pick up everything she needs, much less spend a lot of time figuring out what are the best foods amid such an overwhelming number of choices.

Thanks to my work with the American Heart Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America, I know what a challenge it is for Marta and other families like hers to find and buy healthy food. That's why I'm so proud that NCLR has joined with First Lady Michelle Obama and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in an innovative public-private partnership to help families like the Sanchezes make the right food choices for their families.

The First Lady announced the new program in Tampa last month. The USDA previously unveiled its new food icon, MiPlato, which highlights how to create a balanced, healthy meal that contains high levels of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Goya Foods, the leading source of Latino food products in the country, has agreed to use the MiPlato icon on its healthy products and will also distribute educational materials along with coupons to thousands of Latinos across the country. What this means is that Marta Sanchez can make healthier meals with the foods her family likes and are used to, without breaking her budget.

The MiPlato label is just one part of the USDA's initiative. The Department will have an easy-to-use website which provides a host of educational tools on nutrition and also links to how to contact health professionals. NCLR will be working with its Affiliates which run the acclaimed Promotores program to get the word out about the program. These lay health educators have been shown to be one of the most effective ways of reaching our community with health and nutrition information.

The involvement of government, business, and community groups in this effort demonstrates how committed so many sectors in our society are to improving the well-being and ultimately the lives of their customers, constituents, and clients because it's not just the right thing but the smart thing to do. Together, we are doing everything we can to make sure that Latino families live longer and healthier lives.