Newly released: Recommendations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. Time to Act: Investing in the Health of Our Children and Communities calls for action on early childhood, healthy communities, and bridging health and health care. Read the report and explore the charts, infographics, and videos at

From Congress to the Cafeteria: Healthy Food is a Priority

David R. Williams, Ph.D., Staff Director

November 3, 2009

The Commission recognized the importance of nutritious food for improving the health of Americans when it released its recommendations in April.  It saw communities without any access to grocery stores and fresh produce, school meals for children containing chicken nuggets, pizza and fries, and a country disconnected from the food system it relies on for its nutritional wellbeing.  But recently, the tide has begun to turn and leaders from all sectors are starting to understand the connection between nutritious food and America’s health.  Here’s a selection of recent progress:

New stores in food deserts

Healthy food in schools
  • Obama increases school nutrition funding by $1.9 billion
    President Obama signed 2010 budget legislation this week that increases funding for the school nutrition program to $17 billion – $1.9 billion above 2009.  The annual agriculture appropriations bill also includes a $4 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and $400 million more for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • IOM recommends healthier meals
    We’ve learned a lot about children’s nutritional needs and the relationship between diet and chronic disease – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. – since the last update to school meal nutrition standards in 1995.  A new IOM report recommends new targets that rein in sodium and calories and encourage children to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Child Nutrition Act reauthorization
    With the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, The Washington Post was encouraged by the growing momentum to change the outdated school meal guidelines to improve the nutrition, and ultimately, the health of children in schools.
  • Healthier school meal ideas
    How can we provide healthy school meals at a reasonable cost?  The Washington Post explored one solution that eschews tater tots and pizza for made-from-scratch meals that don’t break school budgets.
Leaders speak out
WIC Changes
  • Healthier food for WIC participants
    On Oct. 1, new guidelines for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food packages went into effect that give participants healthier options.  The guidelines to states expand the food package to include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and soy products – the first time many of these healthy food options have been offered.
Farm to table movement
  • From farm to table movement
    USDA launched “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,” to start a national conversation about where our food comes from and how it gets to our plate.  The site is a wealth of information on the health, economic and environmental benefits of reviving the link between farmer and consumer.

Additional healthy food resources

  • The RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America held a webinar on its recommendations for improving access to healthy foods and received a large number of questions from participants.  The Commission answered all the healthy food questions – and provided a recording of the webinar – on its Leadership Blog.  The Commission’s recommendations for nutrition and healthy places are available at
  • USDA has produced several useful reports around food deserts.  The most recent report (June 2009) is available here.  Key finding: 23.5 million people live in low-income areas (areas where more than 40 percent of the population has income at or below 200 percent of Federal poverty thresholds) that are more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.
  • PolicyLink is another useful source of data on access to healthy food access.  Their 2008 report, Designed for Disease: The Link Between Local Food Environments and Obesity and Diabetes, demonstrates that people who live near an abundance of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, compared to grocery stores and fresh produce vendors, have a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
  • The Food Trust and its Fresh Food Financing Initiative are working to improve access to healthy food in urban areas.  They’ve done significant work in Philadelphia (ShopRite store that Obama visited) and are the model that the Bloomberg administration is following in New York City.  Their recent surveyprovides useful data on the issues facing the Philadelphia.  Key finding: One in three poor adults in Philadelphia, representing 66,700 residents, report having fair or poor quality of groceries in their neighborhoods compared to 17.8% of non-poor adults.

First Lady Michelle Obama visits Sesame Street to talk about eating right, exercising regularly
and being a healthy and positive role model for children.

Comments on "From Congress to the Cafeteria: Healthy Food is a Priority"

1 comment

  • Jeff Allen

    January 16, 2010

    I always thought that liberals were pro-choice. It the liberal argument that it's the woman's body and she has a right to chose. Well, it's my body and I should maintain the right to chose.


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