Monday, August 10, 2009

RWJF Tackles America's Nutrition Deficit

Farmer's Market Ad in Boston T
Farmer's Market Ad in Boston T

Today I listened to a Webinar hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) which discussed the nutrition recommendations of their own Commission to Build a Healthier America. The conversation, moderated on Harvard School of Public Health's own Dr. David Williams, focused on two of their three overarching recommendations:

  1. Fund and design WIC and SNAP (Food Stamps) programs to meet the needs of hungry families for nutritious food.
  2. Create public-private partnerships to open and sustain full-service grocery stores in communities without access to healthful foods.

The Webinar discussed how to address America's love affair with unhealthy, processed, nutrition-empty foods. How can we change the eating habits of nation? The Commission advocates personal responsibility, as well as committing as a society to remove the obstacles that prevent Americans from choosing healthy, nutritious food.

Obstacles? What Obstacles?

I was surprised that a few folks on the panel (made up of a broad spectrum of leaders from both sides of the political aisle, as well as those who serve in government and private industry) seemed shocked at the realization that their are huge disparities in access to fresh produce in neighborhoods based on socioeconomic status (e.g. income). Many low-income communities still do not have a local grocery store. This was something panelists recently learned. It outraged them. And they seem committed to doing something about it! That there are communities with easier access to McDonald's and liquor stores than to fresh fruits and vegetables needs remedy.

The Commission has put together a list of model programs for each of its recommendations, one of which I highlighted in an earlier Society & Health post on food desserts based out of Philadelphia. This widely acclaimed local program may be turned into a national "Fresh Food Financing Initiative". Other models include a standardized evaluation of elementary school food environments sponsored by the USDA and the Farmer's Market Nutrition Programs.

I recently noticed that 14 Boston Area Farmer's Markets (a select group, perhaps) provide a 2-1 matching for patrons who purchase produce using food stamps (here's an article from the Globe). This may provide an economic incentive for low-income women to choose healthy, farm fresh produce over grocery or convenience store alternatives.

This conversation is critical right now. We need to focus on health, not just health care. Health reform, not just health care reform. All of us can work toward eating healthier, and all it probably takes is some common-sense (my mom has thankfully always had this!). Doing so will mean living longer, healthier lives.

You can check out more from the Commission and Q&A's from the Webinar on their blog.

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