Supporting Healthy Changes with Policy

Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 recommendation: Image Credit: SCOPEZero (0) sugary drinks. Drink more water and low-fat milk.

Now, it’s real, huh? I get it. Down here in Savannah, we live in the land of milk and honey. To be more accurate, sweet tea, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and ice cold Coca-Cola. So, I could use our screen time together to remind you that these tasty, thirst-quenching treats provide very little nutritional value; a boat load of calories you could get from healthy, fresh foods; and more sugar than our bodies can probably handle (if we tell ourselves the truth). Instead, here’s a self-study of a few Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 resources: The “0” Brochure, Drink Water & Low-Fat Milk, How Much Sugar Do You Drink?, and Water is Fuel for Your Body. Let’s spend this time talking about how policy changes in our everyday lives can support people to make healthier choices. First up, let’s revisit some recent news about the decline in obesity rates among US preschoolers who live in households that earn a low-income. With peachy pride, I can share that Georgia was one of eighteen (18) states who experienced this small, but significant improvement in the health of our kiddos (aka future leaders). Several factors likely played a role, such as increased breastfeeding and more awareness of healthy living, but changes to the WIC policy piqued my interest most. WIC stands for the Women, Infants, and Children program. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers this supplemental nutrition program to pregnant women who earn a low-income and infants and children up to age 5 who might be at nutritional risk. WIC also provides nutrition education and referrals to health and social services. In 2012, WIC served nearly 9 million participants (USDA, 2013) – that’ a whole lotta folks eating food! In 2008, WIC aligned its policy with the USDA dietary guidelines and began providing healthier food choices, such as fruits and vegetables, low- or nonfat milk, and whole grain breads and cereals. Because of this policy change, nearly 9 million folks have access to healthy foods via WIC food packages and store or farmers market purchases. Coupled with nutrition education, this policy change has lead to a positive increase in healthy eating behaviors among WIC participants (Chiasson et al., 2013). On the local front, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) has recently adopted a School Wellness Policy, which outlines specific ways that schools can create a healthy environment for all students. To start, all foods and drinks available on campus must align with federal and state law (e.g., Healthy Hunger-Free Act of 2010). Seems simple enough, but we all know that fundraisers, vending machines, and even the lunches some students bring to school might make healthy choices a bit difficult for our kiddos. Not to worry, the SCCPSS Wellness Committee (aka makers of the SCCPSS School Wellness policy) has thought of this. For example, “Foods of minimal nutritional value”, such as sodas, chips, honey buns, and fried twinkies, cannot be sold during the school day. And to keep students from salivating over these forbidden non-fruits while waiting for their nutritious school lunch, the policy prohibits locating vending machines near the cafeteria. By the way, this policy is not just about what schools can’t do. Schools can “vend” (gotta love this word) non-carbonated, bottled water and students can have individual water bottles during school day events and celebrations. (A hydrated brain is a brain that learns!) Also, high school stores can sell food and drink, as long as these items meet the nutritional requirements. I don’t know about you, but I am excited about students’ opportunity for a real-world, marketing experience. Maybe they will grow up to be healthy corner store owners. These are just few highlights of the SCCPSS Wellness policy. Please take a gander and learn more about how to help our children have a healthy school day, everyday. Also, consider joining your local School Wellness Team! As this blog series comes to a close, I encourage you to create healthy policies for you, your family, or your organization. A few examples:

  • You can decide to bring home only healthy snacks for your kids to munch on after school; sugary items are an occasional treat, not a reward.
  • Parents of youth sports teams can agree to only offer water (with fun fruit bits) at all practices and games.
  • Employers can install water fountains or coolers in employee break rooms. To boost healthy efforts, they can also give away reusable water bottles with the company’s logo.

Remember, it’s important to communicate health messages, such as 0 sugary drinks or 5 fruits and vegetables, but in order to have the greatest impact (e.g., decline in obesity among preschoolers), we must combine these messages with policies that help folks to easily make healthy changes. This blog post is part of a series.