It’s no secret at this point that America is embroiled in a health crisis like nothing we’ve seen in our history. For the first time in modern history, today’s parents may live longer than their children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
"Seven of the top 10 leading causes of death are the result of chronic diseases, which are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the United States. Heart disease and cancer alone account for nearly half of all lives lost each year. Many of these deaths, as well as those from stroke, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses could have been delayed, and quality of life could have been improved, through health promoting behaviors, including healthy diet, physical activity, avoidance of tobacco, and other types of risk reduction. For example, the success in reducing heart disease mortality has been attributed in part to implementation of evidence-based medical therapies and in equal measure to reductions in major risk factors: decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels through dietary changes, decreased smoking rates, and increased physical activity."
Promoting a healthy diet is often easier said than done, given the ubiquity of fat- and sugar-heavy processed foods and beverages nearly everywhere we go. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg realized this and pushed, unsuccessfully, for a ban on extra-large sugary beverages. Ultimately, a New York appeals court ruled that the mayor’s ban on certain products would violate the separation of powers in the state’s Constitution.
But Bloomberg was onto something, even if he couldn’t get the final law inked. Nutritionists agree that we need to set Americans—and especially children—up to make the right dietary choice more often than not, and that starts with a less toxic environment.
Common sense says that should start with government buildings and schools. Just this week, the city of Tempe, Ariz. is weighing a measure that would remove all sugar- and fat-laden foods from parks and community centers.
“There are many parents that take great pains to make sure their children eat healthy,” Councilman Kolby Granville told the Arizona Republic. “But as soon as the children get dropped off at a City of Tempe facility, all of that work can be undone with 50 cents and a vending machine.”
Should Tempe clean up its act, many other cities—and even the federal government—could stand to follow suit. According to a 2014 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, most food available at taxpayer-funded snack counters and vending machines at government buildings and parks is still pretty terrible. In fact, more than 75 percent of the food offered in these government-run facilities were candy, chips, and cookies.
Until recently, schools weren’t much better. As we’ve reported before, the majority of school cafeterias in the United States have exclusive sales deals with Coca-Cola. A new study found that the mere availability of junk food in schools is directly correlated with higher rates of obesity. California was one of the first states to clean up the vending machines in the state's schools way back in 2007, and a 2012 study found that it's working: kids there have a healthier diet than their peers in other states.
The health and wellbeing of an entire generation depends on our ability to educate young people on how to make the right choices regarding their diets. Working to get some of the cookies, chips and sodas off our taxpayer-funded streets might be the most effective first step.
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr