Voices for Healthy Kids January 2016


2016: The Year Ahead in Healthy Food Policy

Thomas Edison was known for a lot – the invention of the telegraph, the incandescent lightbulb, and the movie camera, to name a few. But the futuristic inventor also had a deep understanding and appreciation of human health, especially the link between health and what people eat. It was thus no surprise that, when asked for his predictions for the future, he wrote, “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

There is a rapidly growing awareness among physicians and the public-health community that the link between good health and the care of the human body, especially the food one eats, is enormous and critically important to the prevention of disease.  Today, a diet consisting of healthy foods, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, is seen as key to the prevention of obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

  Voices for Healthy Kids 

But accessing those healthy foods can be a complicated matter. People in urban and rural setting alike can live miles from the nearest grocery store, and many don’t have adequate transportation. The push to market unhealthy foods to kids can be daunting.  It’s with that recognition that Voices for Healthy Kids focuses on a long-term, multipronged strategy to combat the factors that negatively affect the diet of the American public, especially communities of color, who face some of the greatest diet-related health disparities in the nation.

The Voices for Healthy Kids strategy to improve healthy eating consists of four key components:

·      Improve access to healthy foods for the millions of Americans who currently lack that access due to distance or transportation challenges. Included in this effort is improving healthy food offerings at corner and convenience stores.

·      Improve the quality of foods sold in vending machines and in school stores, thereby helping to assure that not only are students given consistent access to healthy foods during the school day, but the messages of parents are supported and reinforced.

·      Support healthy vending, service, and institutional feeding food procurement policy on government property; for example, making sure vending machines on public properties sell “better for you” items that are low in fat, sodium, and sugar.  

·      Restrict the marketing of food and beverages in schools that are unhealthy, including sugary drinks and candy.


2016 Policy Momentum

Competitive Foods

Stephanie Tama-Sweet, a Regional Campaign Manager for Voices for Healthy Kids who provides policy consultation for advocates, staff, and community partners on school health issues, including school foods and food marketing, says 2016 campaigns like Eat Smart Move More South Carolina have a smart approach to the problem. “It’s really important that we begin thinking about food and eating as systems and whole environments. The foods sold in school vending machines, the message on the billboard near a school, and the foods carried by the corner store need to deliver a consistent message, which is healthy eating will support health for a lifetime.”


Food Access

Kim Milbrath, a Regional Campaign Manager for Voices for Healthy Kids who specializes in food access policies, including healthy food financing initiatives and corner store programs, says that momentum is rapidly building for improving access to healthy foods in communities, especially in rural locations. “We’re seeing healthy food financing programs work across the country – first in Pennsylvania and now throughout the South. There has been great success in improving access and we expect those successes to strengthen the larger movement throughout 2016.”

The Voices for Healthy Kids strategy of providing funding and technical support for efforts to improve healthy eating has already made inroads. In Alabama, Voices for Healthy Kids helped support the successful establishment of a state-based program that will create a revolving-loan fund to provide financial incentives to grocers and other food retailers to locate in communities that have low or no access to healthy foods.


According to Katie Bishop, the State & Community Obesity Policy Manager for Voices for Healthy Kids, we’ll see increased efforts to improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages sold in government facilities, including parks, libraries, community centers, pools, museums, and city-owned places.

“After the great work in Baltimore, we’re expecting more procurement campaigns this year, particularly at the community level, because momentum is growing across the country and more states and communities are seeing that they need to provide access to healthier options on their public property. City employees want healthier options during their work day, and families want healthier options where they live, learn, and play.”


Food Marketing

Another Voices for Healthy Kids-backed effort helped create a new state policy in Nevada that requires not only that items sold to Nevada students in school during the school day meet federal nutrition standards, but also that only foods meeting those standards may be marketed in the schools. That means no posters, coupons, or fundraising efforts promoting unhealthy beverages, candy, or high-fat pizza can appear in the schools. We’re now seeing food marketing efforts in states like Rhode Island and Connecticut that are changing public and policymaker attitudes about the link between food and health, thereby helping to set the stage for more changes in the upcoming year.

While Edison’s prediction took over a century to be realized, today people are keenly aware of the link between food and the prevention of disease. Now it’s important to make sure they are given the tools to make healthy eating choices every day, be it at home or in the schools.

Says Milbrath, “We have a generation of children growing up who will be less healthy than their parents, and healthcare costs are skyrocketing due, in part, to the foods people eat … with a minimal investment that tide can be changed. 2016 is going to be a year of positive changes.”

To see a synopsis of the healthy eating campaigns Voice for Healthy Kids has been engaged in, check out the
2015 Annual Progress Report.

Stay tuned for updates from the field on these issues and more.