Healthy Eating

Obesity is one of the most serious health threats facing our nation.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-thirds of American adults and one-third of American youth are now obese or overweight.  Obesity-related conditions make up several of the leading causes of death in the U.S.  High rates of obesity are largely responsible for the United States’ declining health outcomes and rapidly rising healthcare costs.  Lack of availability and affordability of healthy food contribute to the obesity epidemic.  Laws and policies that promote healthy food and limit access to unhealthy food are critical tools in addressing the obesity epidemic. 

As one example, at the federal level,  in 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated the minimum nutritional standards for the national school breakfast and lunch programs to bring them in line with current nutritional science about what makes up a healthy diet for kids across different age groups.  Additionally, the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 includes provisions that require large chains of retail food establishments and vending machine operators to disclose calorie content of items on menus and in machines and provide other important nutritional information, so that consumers can know what’s in the food they’re getting before they pay for it.  This federal law also established minimum protections for working mothers who are breastfeeding, providing support for parents trying to ensure that their children get the best healthy eating start in life that they can.  Finally, public health advocates are rapidly learning how federal agricultural policy impacts healthy eating efforts from the local to the national level.

Local and state governments have been instrumental in promoting healthy eating laws and policies, in a myriad of ways.  For example, some localities have used urban planning tools such as zoning or licensing laws and incentive programs to regulate location and density of fast food outlets or to promote the availability of healthy foods in neighborhood corner stores.  They have used zoning variances and financial incentives to encourage developers, grocers, and other property owners to locate grocery stores in underserved areas known as “food deserts.”  State or local laws can set minimum nutrition standards for foods served in child care settings, can regulate the use of trans fats in restaurant foods, or can tax sugary beverages to decrease consumption rates.  Many school districts have implemented nutritional standards for meals served in their schools that go beyond federal minimums.  In addition, schools are considering ways to minimize sales and marketing of unhealthy foods to children in school settings through wellness policies, procurement contracts, and measures to limit the sale of competitive foods during the school day.

Organizations and employers can also use policy tools to promote healthy eating environments for their members or employees.  They can use vending contracts to ensure that healthy foods are easily available and promoted on site.  Worksite wellness policies can also promote availability of healthy foods on worksites and support employees’ efforts to eat healthy throughout the workday.

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Featured Publications

  Healthy Healthcare Hospital Pledges Summary Fact Sheet (2013)

This fact sheet provides a summary of national and regional voluntary pledge programs that focus on improving the food and beverage environments within organizational settings.

  Five Steps to Food & Beverage Success

This tip sheet is an introductory roadmap for navigating food and beverage operations such as concession stands and snack bars, and highlights ways to maximize efficiencies as well as incorporate healthier options.

  Tips for Better Vending

This tip sheet provides a high level overview of some of the considerations around making food and beverage vending both healthy and financially successful.

  Minnesota Child Care Toolkit

Child care providers are in a unique position to address the childhood obesity epidemic and tobacco-related health hazards. The Public Health Law Center has developed a series of resources designed to inform and support Minnesota efforts to cultivate child care settings that promote healthy eating, positive exercise habits, reduced screen time, and tobacco-free environments.

  Healthy Beverages in Healthcare Toolkit Collection (2013)

Collection of resources designed to inform and support efforts to promote healthy beverage choices and reduce consumption of unhealthy products within workplace settings in Minnesota, with a special focus on healthcare settings.

  Feeding America’s Schoolchildren

This policy brief provides public health officials and other school stakeholders with an overview of legal and practical considerations impacting federal school nutrition programs.

  Feeding America's Schoolchildren: Resources for Public Health and School Stakeholders

These resources provide public health officials and other school stakeholders with an overview of legal and practical considerations impacting federal school nutrition programs.

  Sickly Sweet—Why the Focus on Sugary Drinks

This fact sheet explains how sugary drinks contribute to obesity.

  Frequently Asked Questions About Healthy Beverage Programs

This fact sheet provides responses for the questions that have typically come up when healthcare organizations have implemented healthy beverage programs.

  Healthy Beverage Hot Spots—Identifying and Utilizing the Institutional Access Points

This fact sheet identifies the key points of access to drinks within a healthcare facility.

  Healthy Beverage Policies—Key Definitions and Sample Standards

This fact sheet provides guidance on developing written definitions and standards for healthy beverage policies.

  Healthcare Can Lead the Way—Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice

This fact sheet explains how healthcare facilities are uniquely situated to both lead and benefit from healthy beverage programs.

  Thirsty for Health—Tap Water and Healthcare

This fact sheet explains why promoting drinking water from the tap makes public health and economic sense.

  Healthy Beverage Programs, Healthy Bottom Lines

This fact sheet discusses some of the common misperceptions about the potential financial impact of healthy beverage programs.

  Building Blocks for Success—A Guide For Developing Healthy Beverage Programs

This guide describes the key components for successful healthy beverage programs. 

  Reducing Sugary Drinks in Healthcare Facilities: Starting the Conversation

Wed, 04/03/2013

This webinar introduces the Minnesota Healthy Beverages in Healthcare Toolkit, a new set of resources geared to support efforts to develop and build healthy beverages programs in Minnesota healthcare facilities.

  Access to Healthy Food: Challenges and Opportunities

This document provides public health advocates, policymakers, and community organizers with an overview of key policy and legal strategies being pursued to reduce or prevent obesity by increasing access to healthy food.

  Healthy Vending and the Randolph Sheppard Act

Federal, state, and local governments can increase access to healthy foods and beverages for their residents by requiring all vending service providers to ensure healthier options are sold in vending machines on public property. Legally blind vendors can be particularly influential in what is sold in vending facilities located on government property because of the Randolph Sheppard Act. This fact sheet discusses the Randolph Sheppard Act and what the law means for healthy vending efforts.

  Healthy Kids, Healthy Child Care

Tue, 06/19/2012

This webinar outlines intervention and policy strategies to promote healthy eating and physical activity in the child care setting.  Presenters cover the current state of the research, including opportunities for improvement and research gaps.  In addition, presenters provide an analysis of the child care legal landscape, including statutes, regulations and cases. Finally, presenters will cover existing intervention-based resources and promising interventions being used around the country. 

  Impacting the Food Environment through Procurement Policy Change

Wed, 12/07/2011

This webinar addresses how procurement policy change is being implemented across the country through government policy and in private and public organizations.  The webinar discusses the importance of procurement policies in creating a healthier work environment, how to successfully implement healthy procurement policies, and how to navigate different legal and policy issues that can arise with the implementation of healthy procurement policies.   

  Sugar Drinks: A Policy Overview Fact Sheet (2011)

This fact sheet highlights the scientific evidence linking consumption of surgar drinks to obesity and highlights pricing policies available to reduce consumption of sugar drinks.

  Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010: Submitting Comments to the USDA (2011)
The Act strengthens school food nutrition standards, increases access to and funding for school meals, and increases technical assistance to schools. It also strengthens school wellness policies, improves farm to school programs, expands afterschool meals programs for at-risk children, and establishes certification standards for food service personnel. In addition to this summary, the Public Health Law Center has created a set of fact sheets outlining several key areas of the Act, including how to submit comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  State AG Enforcement of Food Marketing Laws: A Brief History (2010)

NPLAN & Public Health Law Center

PDF, 234.48 KB

  State AGs: Who They Are and What They Do (2010)

NPLAN & Public Health Law Center

PDF, 216.36 KB