Science, Democracy, and a Healthy Food Policy

How everyday people, scientists, and public health advocates can partner to forge a better future

Published Mar 18, 2014

This May 2014 Lewis M. Branscomb Forum brought together experts, advocates, and engaged community members to explore how science can help advance healthier food environments for communities throughout the nation.

About the forum

While we work to help shape the national movement towards a healthier, safer, and more sustainable food system, some states and localities have already started to lead the charge. It is time for effective local efforts to be recognized and replicated, and for scientists and other experts to become more active and valued partners in advancing the movement toward a healthier food system.

Through preceding expert working groups and the May 6 public forum, we asked: What policy approaches, based on scientific evidence from fields such as public health, economics, sociology and others, are needed to create a healthy food environment?

Issue background

Incidence of diet-related chronic disease in the United States has grown at an unprecedented rate over the past half century—by six times for diabetes and nearly three times for obesity. Two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, to the point where associated costs to individuals, business and the government have become prohibitive, and the smaller pool of fit individuals constricts the viability of institutions such as the military. This epidemic threatens to reverse the prior century’s public health gains, which reduced or eliminated infectious diseases and increased lifespan and quality of life.

These outcomes do not result from market dynamics alone, but from government and industries investing in programs that produce abundant calories, but with little regard for health consequences. Our policies must reflect today’s scientific evidence concerning the “food environments” we create and the relationship between Americans’ diet and our health. In essence, the nation’s food policy is its de facto health policy, and it should invest in programs that will yield improved public health and well-being.

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