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Changes to the U.S. food system could promote healthier choices

A new health advisory from the American Heart Association is describing potential changes to the U.S. food system that would make it easier for consumers to choose healthier foods. The paper lays the groundwork for a strategic policy agenda that could help provide nutritious, affordable food to everyone.

Dr. Cheryl A.M. Anderson is a professor in the School of Medicine at UC San Diego and the chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee.

“Innovation in the food system is needed at multiple levels – the food industry, agricultural industry, public health and medicine, policy, and among communities, worksites, schools, and families. In a healthy food system, the healthy choice would be the default choice,” explained Dr. Anderson.

“To create a healthier and sustainable food system and optimal environments where consumers purchase and consume foods, we need improvements in food production and distribution so that consumers have a wide variety of healthy foods readily available.”

According to the report, health behaviors can also be positively impacted by practices that are initiated and implemented in the private sector.

“Examples include formulating new food products that are lower in calories and/or packaged as smaller serving sizes to reduce population-wide calorie consumption; improving the nutritional value of manufactured foods, product placement of healthier foods on grocery store shelves and pricing strategies to encourage purchasing healthier foods,” said Dr. Anderson.

Previous research has shown that community-based interventions can lead to positive changes in food selection and eating patterns. For example, some schools have noted that students drink more water when it is made readily available to them.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy diet is needed to reduce the risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and the most common type of stroke. Good eating habits are also known to enhance overall well-being and brain health.

Most Americans need to make improvements in their diets. A healthy diet should include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, and nuts, and should limit sugary foods and red meat.

“There is a need for immediate action to promote, fund and evaluate healthful changes to the food system. Innovation at multiple levels is necessary to see improvements in the public’s health,” said Dr. Anderson.

The study is published in the journal Circulation.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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