Over the past half century, we have changed our health issue goals from preventing infectious diseases to now preventing chronic diseases that are brought on by the population itself. However, the numerous issues which relate to health and nutrition such as hunger, food fortification, nutrition related research, sustainable farming, food imports/exports, cancer, etc. are too vast to be housed under one governing body. Instead, nutrition policies are seen in food assistance programs, handling of food products, dietary guidelines, the Healthy People 2020 Initiative, and so on.
Nutrition policy making involves a lot of research in many different arenas, a few being nutrition and etiology, content in foods, health education, and physiological effects of foods and supplements. Nutrition policy making also involves nutrition monitoring which includes nutrition related health measurements, consumption, food composition, attitude and behavior assessments and food supply. Tools used in monitoring include Nutrition Assessments, Monitoring, Screening and Surveillance.
There are many programs and policies active today. The NNMRRP (National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Program) conducts more than 50 surveillance activities which measure and evaluate the health/nutrition status in the United States. The NHANES collects data by physical examination, lab and clinical tests from their target population, ages 1 – 74, measuring dietary intake and body composition among other things. The NFNS (National Food and Nutrition Survey) in 2000 had been the most cost-effective survey for monitoring nutrition yet. The DHKS, the Diet and Health Knowledge Survey measures peoples awareness of diet/health relationships and nutrient knowledge, how to read food labels and what food safety is. The BRFSS (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) is active in all states and collects data on risk behaviors in the adult population such as tobacco/alcohol use, breast screening services, and weight control practices.
The collection of all of this data is then used to make policies and to direct the plan of research for tomorrow. The BRFSS is a highly used source, allowing all the states across the nation to measure the effects of current interventions and to set priorities. Congress also uses this data to analyze and measure the efficiency of current nutrition assistance programs. The Food and Nutrition Board is set up to evaluate current strategies for promoting health and preventing disease by analyzing current knowledge about nutrition and diet and the relationship it has on preventing chronic disease. The DRI is a good example of a policy that puts nutrition recommendations into action for the US population. Non-profit organizations include The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
The former surgeon general Julius Richmond, a former assistant secretary for health commented, “Individuals have the right to make informed choices and the government has the responsibility to provide the best data for making good dietary decisions.” I agree that the American public has the right to make their own decisions, however I fear with as much help and guidance that is available, the American lifestyle is not so easy to change. We seem to thrive on busy schedules, fast paced and stressful agendas, and are somehow convincing ourselves that we don’t have time to sit down to a home cooked meal, to make our own lunches to bring to work, to fit in 30 minutes of exercise in our busy day. Dietary guidelines can be laid out for us, although I feel the public needs to make the conscious effort and decision and to realize that it is a lifestyle change. There are many policies and guidelines in place striving to alleviate hunger and food shortages, but the concern that I feel should be addressed more is educating the public, and, is it too far to say…refuse help to those who are educated and are still making the unhealthful choice? Chronic obesity has reached it’s all time high, which I feel is due not only to the lack of education, but the stubbornness and refusal to change their lifestyle. Is it right for them to continually make these lifestyle decisions and for the healthcare system and the rest of the population to pay the price? Is it possible to severely cut back the production of such highly processed and poisonous foods, perhaps even deeming them illegal?