As a member of a health department or health organization, you are probably well aware of the nutrition policy final rule for menu labeling published by the United States Food and Drug Administration in December of 2014. This final rule had a compliance date of May 7, 2018 and required restaurants and other similar food establishments, referred to by the FDA as “covered establishments,” to provide Americans with nutrition information in a clear and consistent manner to help them make healthier food choices when they’re eating food prepared in restaurants. This is part of regulations brought on by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 that is designed to increased education among Americans so they can better choices when it comes to healthy eating. As part of a health department or organization, this is the perfect time to offer Americans nutrition education and other programs to promote healthy living.
A study by the Economic Research Service (a component of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) found that Americans who used calorie menu labeling information consumed 180 fewer calories at fast-food restaurants and 167 fewer calories at full-service restaurants than those Americans who chose not use the calorie information. More importantly, the same study found that 55% of Americans at fast-food restaurants and 58% of Americans at full-service restaurants choose not to use calorie information when ordering. It is suspected that this is due to consumers already committing to eating at a restaurant or eating a certain food after they arrive at the restaurant but before ordering their food. This presents a perfect opportunity for health promotion by providing Americans with nutrition information before they see the calorie information on the menus. If consumers are better educated on calorie counts before arriving at a restaurant they could make better overall food choices.
Another study the ERS took a look at how the menu labeling law in New York City affected weight loss. They found that the BMI of adults fell more in a jurisdiction with a menu labeling law than jurisdictions without any sort of menu labeling law. It is possible that the menu labeling law led better educated consumers to making healthier food choices which resulted in a lower BMI for Americans.
Programs for the Community
According to a 2016 study by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 39.8% of Americans were obese which is an increase of 2% from a 2014 study. Obesity comes with an increase risk of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and certain cancers. To combat this epidemic there are multiple health programs you can offer in your community. In particular, health programs would be most effective in the ten most obese states (data supplied by the CDC):
1. West Virginia (38.1%)
2. Mississippi (37.3%)
3. Oklahoma (36.5%)
4. Iowa (36.4%)
5. Alabama (36.3%
6. Louisiana (36.2%)
7. Arkansas (35.0%
8. Kentucky (34.3%)
9. Alaska (34.2%)
10. South Carolina (34.1%)
If you choose to use nutrition analysis software, there are many things you can do with the information you gain to help your community live healthier lives. Some communities have been proactive and are already running healthy living initiatives. Here are some examples:
- Healthy Eating Rebates – Some health departments have offered coupons to people who purchase healthy food. Coupons have been given for qualifying fruit and vegetable purchases to encourage families to eat healthier.
- Community Gardens – Offering residents a place to grow fruits and vegetables provides cheaper access to fruits and vegetables. Gardening also provides people with an opportunity to get more exercise. Gardening can burn up to 400 calories per hour.
- Healthy Food Education – Some communities have websites built to help educate consumers and get them to make healthier food choices. Providing consumers with information regarding nutrition and instructions on how to read food labels can help them make healthier choices. This same information can also be given out at community get-togethers or in classes specifically put together for educational purposes.
Getting Nutrition Information
You have decided that educating people on calorie counts and nutrition information is a wise decision, now you might ask: “how do I get this information to pass along?” MenuCalc is an easy-to-use software that has a database of USDA-compiled ingredients. You can enter recipes and instantly receive nutrition information. With this information you could do something like put together nutrition programs. Nutrition education, along with any or all of the other aforementioned programs can lead to a healthier population. According to a study by the CDC and the NIH, 45% of the American population currently suffers from at least one chronic disease (including heart disease, hypertension, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.). Increased education will push Americans towards to a healthier diet and the health benefits that come with it.