Changing How America Eats: Transforming Individuals & Communities
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Policy question: What are the challenges and promises of current efforts to promote healthier eating, and what can AGree do to help advance practical and successful strategies in the future? The importance of a healthy diet cannot be overstated. Research now links poor diet to a number of deadly—and expensive—health outcomes including obesity, chronic disease, and even some forms of cancer. Despite the well-documented risk associated with an unhealthy diet, millions of Americans fail to meet basic nutrition standards. Instead of consuming reasonable amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, many Americans over consume sugary drinks and processed foods loaded with added fat and salt. The results have been disastrous. Obesity rates, premature deaths, and health care costs are rising. While personal responsibility over one’s diet is a key factor in eating well, there are also four key obstacles that often prevent or hinder individual and community efforts to improve nutrition. These obstacles include: • Availability – Many Americans live in communities where fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk are not available. • Affordability – Healthier foods can be more expensive than many energy-dense foods with added sugars, salt, and saturated fats. • Cultural and Familial Preferences – Cultural and familial preferences often negatively affect food choices. • Education – Individuals do not have clear information and easy-to-follow instructions to help make informed nutrition and meal choices. These challenges are further compounded by the reality that unhealthy foods often taste better, and are more convenient to prepare or pick-up. Successful interventions to encourage healthy eating will require creative problem solving and significant support from stakeholders across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Efforts to encourage Americans and their families to maintain a healthy diet can be broadly categorized into two distinct missions: creating opportunities for change and implementing theories of change. There are many public, private, and nonprofit actors and organizations working to create opportunities to implement healthy eating inventions, and then also following through on those opportunities to deliver a range of services and programs that help individuals and communities at the local level overcome barriers to healthy eating. AGree is in a unique position to help advance these goals. Specifically, AGree should: Support research evaluating the effectiveness of comprehensive community-based interventions to help policymakers and nonprofits advocate for and implement the most effective policies and interventions to promote healthy eating. Work with relevant stakeholders to develop a comprehensive healthy eating policy platform that represents the interests of stakeholders and reflects current knowledge of the best policies and practices to encourage healthy eating among all Americans. Influencing individual behavior to increase the consumption of healthier foods is a complex endeavor. As the approaches discussed in this analysis will demonstrate, creating long-lasting change in the American diet will require a variety of strategies, leaders, funding sources, and partnerships at every level—federal, state, and local—working to change the default behavior of both individuals and their larger communities through advocacy and action. Through advocacy efforts, many stakeholders are working to establish or protect funding streams, regulations, or legislatively mandated policy goals. These organizations are using coalition building, legislative advocacy, and grassroots lobbying to achieve these goals. On the ground, policymakers are utilizing two basic theories of change to address poor nutrition: targeted intervention and community transformation. Targeted interventions identify a specific barrier that prevents or hampers an individual’s ability or motivation to maintain a healthy diet. A community transformation approach focuses on addressing multiple barriers within a community, and transforming that community to make it easier to maintain a well-balanced diet. This report contains an analysis of current efforts to both create opportunities for change and take advantage of those opportunities. Different stakeholders bring a variety of resources and perspectives to the effort. These same stakeholders also face unique constraints that affect their ability in both the programmatic and advocacy arenas. This report’s analysis will explore how different stakeholders are working with policymakers to advance smart nutrition policies and implement promising healthy eating interventions on the ground. The goal is to provide AGree with a deeper understanding of the current political, fiscal, and policy environment, and offer recommendations on how the organization can best use its talents and resources to have a long-lasting impact on nutrition and food policy in the United States.
DepartmentThe Sanford School of Public Policy
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Rights for Collection: Sanford School Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program Master’s Projects