Public policy is especially important for the nutrition professional because there are so many policy issues that have an affect on the nutritional status of the public and the effectiveness of what we do. Here are some examples:
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act:
This provides an example where large corporations have held too much power over the U.S. governmental system for too long. Junk food and soda companies have lobbied against any and all efforts to make school food healthy. It probably began with attempts to ban vending machines from schools, which has slowly started to happen state-by-state, but there has just been too much opposition to make it happen across the nation.
Recently, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was finally a great stride forward for the school nutrition community. It authorized funding and set policies for the USDA’s child nutrition programs. It also established requirements for promoting the School Breakfast Program, expanded after-school programs that serve meals or snacks to at-risk children, expanded wellness policies to ensure our children learn the importance of health and disease prevention, and made several improvements to the nutrition quality of school food.
Note: Despite any controversy surrounding this bill, school meals still provide up to 850 calories and programs that offer additional calories, such as the School Breakfast Program and the after-school meals, have expanded nationwide. Also, if students are still hungry, they may have more fresh fruit, vegetables, or low-fat dairy products.
The Farm Bill:
This bill is arguably the largest and most complex bill regarding food and/or nutrition in the United States. Although it may seem overwhelming, it’s actually a great opportunity to reach out to your representatives. The 1009 pages of complexities that is the Farm Bill covers so much that no member of congress has the time or energy to become an expert on it. It is up to us to bring to light the pieces within it that are important to you. This gives your representative a chance to bring forward your organization’s input before the legislation is finalized.
Many Americans believe that the Farm Bill exclusively addresses American farm-related matters. However, the long list of other concerns covered in the bill includes commodity programs (particularly SNAP), conservation, trade, nutrition, United States rural development, forestry, energy, horticulture, livestock, crop insurance and disaster assistance, commodity futures, and others.
Since those who may be financially inconvenienced by this bill (CAFOs/factory farms and Coca-Cola come to mind) have so much money and power to expend lobbying congress, it is up to you to represent the other side! Call, write, or email your U.S. senators to let them know the importance of sustainable farming, healthful commodities, or whichever issue is important to you.
To learn more about the Farm Bill, visit SNAP TO HEALTH.
Here is another example of large corporations having the loudest voice in the U.S. for far too long. For years, chain restaurants, particularly fast food restaurants, have fought (and continue to fight) strong against the changes the menu labeling proposal entailed. Understandably, they do not want their customers to know the caloric-density of their low-nutrient meals. As we know, people need access to the right information in order to make the right decisions.
The proposed menu labeling legislation seeks to require restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post nutrition information on menus and on menu boards. Not only will this help people to take more accountability for the food choices they make when dining out, but it also encourages chain restaurants to expand their menus with the addition of healthier options.
For years, these large corporations have successfully lobbied against these changes, but there is still a chance for you to make a difference. There is a continued need for lawmakers to be reminded of who they are working for. They didn’t run for office to please fast food and soda companies, they did it for U.S. citizens (who, not to mention, elected them in the first place). If we could provide as much support as there is opposition, our voices would be heard. Further, city and state governments can support an expansion of menu labeling regulations that are not limited to restaurants with more than 20 locations.