Aligning Food Systems Policies to Advance Public Health

Public health in the United States is heavily influenced by food and agricultural policies at the federal, state and local levels. Various trends in food system policies over the past 50 years have resulted in unintended adverse public health consequences--evidence of a disconnection between those policies and research that shows what foods promote health. For example, commodity price supports for corn and soybeans have made highly processed foods less expensive than healthier fresh fruits and vegetables.

This commentary outlines numerous opportunities to advance public health through food system policies. Ideally, such a food system would:

  • Fulfill food and nutrition needs;
  • Conserve and renew natural resources;
  • Advance social justice and animal welfare; and
  • Build community wealth.

Because of the complex and interdependent nature of the food system, fragmented and incremental food system policy change will not be effective. The authors suggest that regional, city or county food policy councils be developed to initiate comprehensive food system policy enhancements that improve health. Public health professionals and advocates should play an important role providing leadership for food policy councils.