Policy and Practice: The US Food System and Health

July 16, 2013
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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A major social determinant of health is our food system—not only what we eat, but how that food is grown, processed and made available to the market. From pesticide use to fertilizer nanomaterials to antibiotics in animal feed, science raises important public health concerns around agriculture, but these concerns are largely ignored at the policy level, include by the Food and Drug Administration. Every five years, the federal Farm Bill—the nation’s largest piece of food and farm related legislation—strongly steers how these and related issues are handled. Congress failed to pass any Farm Bill last year, and health professionals are increasingly troubled by the direction of the 2013 version.

On this call Dr. David Wallinga, MD, MPA, founder of Healthy Food Action (and formerly IATP senior scientist) discussed the prospects for policy-led change in the health of the US food system, at the federal level as well as at the community level. In contrast to the gridlock around the Farm Bill, local communities around the country are innovating and changing food system policy and practice in important ways. Ashley Colpaart, MS, RD, chair-elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Hunger and Environmental Nutrition practice group discussed the relationship between health services, nutritious food and a sustainable environment. Finally Dr. Preston Maring of Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center addressed his work to bring farmers markets to Kaiser Permanente facilities across multiple states.

Featured Speakers

David Wallinga, MD, MPA, founder of Healthy Food Action, advocates for change to today’s broken food system, from the farm to the consumer level. He takes a systems view to food policy, neither of which health professionals typically are trained in. At the federal level, Wallinga advocates for health-focused policies in the Farm Bill, and in how FDA regulates the 80 percent of US antimicrobials (including human medicines) currently fed to food animals. Given the might of the junk food, meat and pharmaceutical industries, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that meaningful food policy change, at least in the time frame needed to address obesity and other diet-related disease, likely will come instead from the community level.

Ashley Colpaart, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian who earned a Masters of Science in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition—specializing in sustainable food systems and the environment from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She is currently the chair of the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition (HEN) Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and has worked strategically to make environmental nutrition part of the professional nutrition agenda. As a research assistant for the Colorado State University Extension Local Food System team and the Colorado Integrated Food Safety Centers of Excellence, she is working with various research teams to assess risk management for small-scale value-added food businesses, conduct food systems assessment for public health departments, and bridge knowledge gaps on agricultural production practices and food distribution systems. Before beginning her doctoral work, Ashley taught undergraduate nutrition students at Texas State University. Her courses included Food Systems, Food & Nutrition Science, and Nutrition & Health.

Preston Maring, MDPreston Maring, MD, has been an OB/GYN physician with Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center since 1971. Dr. Maring established the Friday Fresh Farmers’ Market at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in May 2003, featuring growers who are approved by the California Certified Organic Farmers’ Association. There are now 25 markets at Kaiser Permanente facilities in five states, with plans for more. While Dr. Maring's primary focus continues to be his work at the Oakland Medical Center, he is working with others in and outside of Kaiser Permanente to bring fresh, local, sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables to the inpatient setting, the cafeterias and to other Kaiser Permanente buildings and non-Kaiser Permanente worksites.

The call was moderated by Elise Miller, MEd, director of CHE.