Increased Access to Healthy Foods
Maintaining a healthy diet is difficult for families who don’t have convenient access to affordable healthy foods. In too many neighborhoods, families are surrounded by high calorie, low nutritional value options with minimal if any access to affordable healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables.
Leading national organizations have focused on communities’ essential front-line role and actions that local governments can take to prevent obesity. Several options have been identified that can positively change access to and the consumption of healthy foods and beverages. These are well described by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM report, Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity (released September 2009) identified 58 action steps, with 12 slated as most promising. The IOM report is specifically focused on strategies that are likely to directly affect children and that take place outside of the school day.
Following are the IOM’s most promising initiatives for improving local access to healthy foods:
- Create incentive programs to attract supermarkets and grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods.
- Require menu labeling in chain restaurants to provide consumers with calorie information on in-store menus and menu boards.
- Mandate and implement strong nutrition standards for foods and beverages available in government-run or regulated after-school programs, recreation centers, parks, and childcare facilities, including limiting access to unhealthy foods and beverages.
- Adopt building codes to require access to, and maintenance of, fresh drinking water fountains (e.g., public restrooms).
- Implement a tax strategy to discourage consumption of foods and beverages that have minimal nutritional value, such as sugar-sweetened beverages.
- *Improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages served and sold in schools and as part of school-related activities.