American food is terrible. Here are 7 ideas for Americans to eat healthier

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and thinking about food more broadly and how we can solve this crisis,” Mozaffarian told NPR. He co-chairs an independent task force that includes doctors, chefs, food policy and business experts, as well as agriculture and health advocates, who are helping shape the agenda for the upcoming White House conference.

In a new report, they offer a wide range of recommendations for eliminating hunger, advancing nutrition and improving health. Here are seven big ideas they’re excited about.

Fresh produce at a store that accepts EBT payments
Nutrition advocates say SNAP and WIC benefits, which pay low-income families for groceries, could be designed to encourage buying more fresh produce. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

1. Treat food as medicine

There is a growing movement to integrate food and nutrition into health care by providing healthy foods and groceries to patients to help prevent or manage food-related illnesses. The task force would like to see such work expanded.

“We should pay for food-based interventions that work,” Mozaffarian said.

For example, there is evidence that providing prescriptions for fruits and vegetables can encourage people to eat better and control weight and blood sugar. The idea is for health care systems or insurers to provide or pay for healthy groceries, combined with nutrition education, to help patients change their eating habits. It is being piloted across the country.

“Prescription programs help improve food quality and food safety,” said task force member Dr. Hilary Seligman, a food safety expert and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, notes that they can help with high-dose illnesses such as food-related illnesses. Blood pressure and diabetes.

Another idea is to offer medically tailored foods that are intended to help people who are already ill with chronic diseases. Currently the federal government is running pilot programs that allow Medicaid or Medicare to pay for meals in several states.

2. Focus on the quality of calories, not just the quantity

The US food supply is awash in cheap calories. And when you’re on a tight budget or relying on benefits like SNAP (food stamps), processed foods like chips and soda can set you back less than fresh produce. Of course, eating processed foods contributes to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, warns Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.

Brown said federal food assistance programs have helped combat hunger. “However, many US food policies and programs focus on improving adequate access Amount of food,” she says. Instead, it’s time to modernize and focus on these policies food quality,”So that people get enough nutritious food.”

The task force wants to see food programs redesigned to pull people toward healthier options. The report points to the GusNIP nutrition incentive program — which, in select communities — gives SNAP participants more money to buy fruits and vegetables. It’s a similar concept to the Double Box program, which doubles the value of SNAP benefits used to buy produce at farmers markets and other locations.

“It’s important to increase these efforts to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food options,” said task force member Angela Odoms-Young, a nutrition professor at Cornell University.

The task force recommends that Congress establish a nationwide production incentive program for all SNAP participants. “These types of programs can help promote equity,” Odoms-Young said, noting that people of color disproportionately suffer from chronic illness.

Shoppers in a grocery store
The US food system makes junk food abundant and cheap. Eating a diet based on whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables can improve health — but also strain the grocery budget. Food leaders are looking for ways to improve how Americans eat. (Frederick J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

3. Expand access to dietary and lifestyle counseling

The Affordable Care Act mandates that diet counseling be covered by insurers as a preventive care benefit for people at high risk of chronic disease. The exact details of who is eligible for which services are left up to an advisory group of doctors and health care providers, as well as insurers, and many patients who would benefit may not have access to these services.

“Most Americans should be getting preventive behavioral lifestyle treatment,” says Mozaffarian. Often, he says, doctors prescribe medications for conditions before recommending or trying lifestyle changes. “Doctors go to medicine,” he says. “I think it’s a big problem.”

The task force recommends that Congress expand Medicare and Medicaid coverage for medical nutrition therapy for hypertension, prediabetes, celiac disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other diet-related conditions. It also calls for expanded coverage of cooking classes and nutrition assistance, as well as coverage of diabetes prevention programs delivered by telehealth. This behavior-change program has been shown to be more effective than medication in reducing the onset of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk.

4. Support food entrepreneurs

Those who start a food business can help nourish their communities and create jobs. The task force calls on the federal government to pass policies that encourage new healthy food initiatives, including providing new loans and grants to food and nutrition-related organizations focused on health, equity and sustainability. The idea is to focus specifically on businesses owned by people of color and other marginalized groups.

“We don’t need more businesses creating diabetes and obesity,” said Tambra Raye Stevenson, who runs Wanda, a nonprofit group that aims to create a pipeline and platform for millions of black women and girls to become local food leaders. “We need entrepreneurs who offer teaching kitchens, community gardens, healthy food retail, wellness studios, nutrition services, healthy consumer products and urban agriculture centers,” she says.

She points to food entrepreneurs like Amanda Stephenson, who opened a specialty food market in an underdeveloped area of Washington, D.C., Fresh Food Factory, and Market 7’s Mary Blackford, who plans a food hall featuring black-owned food and lifestyle businesses. “They make a positive impact on our diet every day and provide access to healthy food for our children and other women,” Stevenson said.

In the lead-up to next month’s White House conference, groups such as Food Tank, a food think tank, have hosted listening sessions with food researchers and entrepreneurs. “To make food more accessible and affordable, we need entrepreneurs using science and technology,” says Food Tank’s Daniel Nienberg. He points to innovators like Journey Foods that are helping entrepreneurs bring nutritious meals and snacks to market.

5. Increase the number of new farmers growing healthy food using regenerative farming techniques

If all Americans started eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, there would be shortages. Because most of the cropland in the United States grows corn and soybeans. Now, there is growing recognition of the need for more specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

The task force recommends that Congress create a Farmer Corps to support new farmers, creating the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The idea is to provide new farmers with paid internships and apprenticeships to learn about sustainable farming, and funding to cover a living wage and housing. It is pushing for loans to growing farmers with sustainable practices.

Growing the same crop, season after season, as many farmers do, can make fields less productive over time and deplete nutrients from the soil. “The unfortunate reality is that today we subsidize conventional practices that deplete the soil,” said David Montgomery, a University of Washington professor and author. What did you eat?who attended a hearing session.

“What we need to sustain agriculture is to encourage healthy soil restoration and train more farmers to be successful,” he says.

6. Make school meals free for all students

School meals have been a fixture in US schools since President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946. For decades, the federal government has reimbursed schools for the meals they serve, and low-income students can qualify for free or reduced-price. Food. Studies show that low-income children who participate have better health.

Yet, many families who qualify for free or reduced-price meals do not receive them, sometimes because of paperwork, bureaucracy, or the stigma of participating or enrolling. Amidst the pandemic, free school meals have been provided to all students. Now, the task force says it should be a permanent change.

“Without access to free meals at school, many children go without food during the day, and many more do not have access to the nutritious foods they need to thrive,” said UC San Francisco’s Seligman. She noted that school meals not only help children with nutrition, they reduce absenteeism and improve academic results.

7. Establish a federal ‘food jar’

To turn such ideas into action, the task force recommends creating a new role in the federal government, a national director of food and nutrition, a food czar figure if you will. The new director will help streamline and coordinate the many disparate efforts already underway. The U.S. government spends more than $150 billion each year on food and nutrition programs, and the health care system also spends billions treating food-related diseases.

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