Improving the Health of All Americans Through Better Nutrition

Poor nutrition is threatening America's health. Today’s children may be the first in American history to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation. Experts warn that excess weight could reduce average life expectancy by five years or more in the next few decades.

Recognizing that health is shaped by much more than health care alone—by where and how we live, learn, work and play—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America issued 10 recommendations for improving the health of all Americans in April 2009. Ensuring better nutrition through federal policy figured prominently in that report.

Commission Nutrition Recommendations:

Feed children only healthy foods in schools.
Federal funds should be used exclusively for healthy meals. Schools should eliminate the sale of "junk" food and federal school breakfast and lunch funds should be linked to demonstrated improvements in children's school diets.

Fund and design WIC and SNAP (Food Stamps) programs to meet the needs of hungry families for nutritious food.
These federal programs must have adequate support to meet the nutritional requirements of all American families in need. More than one in every 10 American households do not have reliable access to enough food, and the foods many families can afford may not add up to a nutritious diet. Nutritious food is a basic need to start and support an active, healthy and productive life.

Create public-private partnerships to open and sustain full-service grocery stores in communities without access to healthful foods.
Many inner city and rural families have no access to healthful foods: for example, Detroit, a city of 139 square miles has just 5 grocery stores. Maintaining a nutritious diet is impossible if healthy foods are not available; and it is not realistic to expect food retailers to address the problem without community support and investment. Communities should act now to assess needs to improve access to healthy foods and develop action plans to address deficiencies identified in their assessments.

Facts and Figures

Approximately one in 10 children and adults eat a healthy diet. Inadequate resources are part of the problem:

  • Children and adults in lower-income families are significantly less likely to have a good diet than those with higher incomes.
  • By 2007, nearly 36.2 million Americans lived in households that sometimes could not ensure enough food for all household members.

Unhealthy food environments also contribute:

  • Schools often do not provide a healthy food environment for children—even though, on school days, children may easily consume more than half their daily calories at school.
  • Nationally, junk foods are available at 73 percent of elementary schools and virtually all middle schools and high schools.

These obstacles to healthy eating are having serious impacts on the nation’s health:

  • Nationally, some 12 million children and adolescents are obese and more than 23 million are either obese or overweight.