Sometimes, it takes new public policies to significantly improve community environments. We must explore how transportation policies, education systems, the food and beverage industry, and other sectors of our economy affect the foods we eat and how much activity we get.
Through agriculture, nutrition and other policies and programs, the federal government wields enormous influence over the foods we eat and beverages we drink. By adjusting these and other policies, the federal government can help create and maintain environments where all children and their families can access affordable, healthy foods and beverages.
Through transportation, education and health care policies, federal elected and appointed officials are well-positioned to help create environments in which children and families can be physically active.
While some policy approaches fall largely under federal jurisdiction, others are shared with state government. These provide an outstanding opportunity for state leaders to improve food environments and promote the consumption of healthy food and beverages. i.e. Develop state standards for foods and beverages served in schools.
States have authority over many relevant policy areas—including education, health, transportation, parks and recreation, and economic development—that significantly impact local activity environments. By taking strong action, state policy-makers can help children and families increase their levels of physical activity and improve their health. On example is the Safe Routes to School program that supports the development of bike paths, sidewalks, and other infrastructure needed to enable children to walk or bike to school, and encourages families to walk or bike.
Local policy-makers have direct control over decisions that shape neighborhood activity environments. Choices like where to place a school, what kinds of businesses to welcome and how much to invest in public transit and crime prevention can have a significant impact on community health.
Policymakers have many options that can positively change the community environment so that the healthy choice is the easy choice for families. The following three national reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC) describe those activities most likely to help prevent obesity.
- 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.
- The CDC report, Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity (released July 2009) identified 24 recommendations and suggested measurements. The CDC recommendations apply to both children and adults, and include those that can take place during school hours.
- The LHC Action Strategies Toolkit (released May 2009) identified 10 action strategies and 31 policy and program options with an emphasis on childhood obesity prevention. It includes strategies that can take place during school hours and outside of the school day. The toolkit also contains tips for getting started, state and local examples, and other resources.