There is much discussion these days about nutrition and healthy eating. Why has obesity become a major health concern in the United States? What can explain the growing interest in locally grown foods? Can local governments regulate what foods citizens can buy and consume? Why is healthful eating determined not only by what a person buys but also by where she lives?
All of these questions seem to lead to an even larger question: is nutrition a personal or public issue? The current thinking on this subject, as reflected in scientific studies, popular writing, and news reports tends to indicate that the answer to this question is “yes, nutrition is both a personal choice and a public responsibility.”
Photo: “Family Grocery Day” at the Oak Cliff Boys & Girls Club in Dallas
One aspect of public responsibility involves the availability of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. In areas of the United States where there are small family farms, healthy foods are often available at farmers’ markets or roadside stands. This may not be the case, however, during the colder months or in the more arid parts of the country where locally grown food is not as abundant.
Urban areas may also lack places to buy healthy foods like fresh produce. Grocery stores that carry healthier items may be far enough away from some neighborhoods that the cost of transportation to shop there is prohibitive. Or the prices at these stores for fresh fruits and vegetables may be more than some people can afford on a regular basis.
Management and leadership in nursing may have persuaded local governments to address these problems through zoning regulations and/or tax incentives that encourage retailers to serve areas otherwise lacking sources of affordable healthy groceries. New York City is introducing “active design” buildings to keep New Yorkers exercising. Small community vegetable gardens are also becoming popular in some urban areas and can be encouraged and supported by local governing bodies.
Schools also play a role in promoting good nutrition. Meals served in the school cafeteria should provide healthy choices every day. Vending machines in schools are beginning to be stocked with items other than high-calorie sodas and snacks.
Photo: Healthy Vending Machine
The principles of good nutrition should be taught in the classroom as studies have demonstrated that even young children make healthier food choices when they are taught the benefits of good nutrition in age-appropriate language. Lastly, periods of physical activity should be provided each day as a way to help combat obesity.
Businesses can be encouraged to provide wellness programs for their employees. Such programs often include information about nutrition, exercise, and making healthy choices when shopping and cooking.
Photo: Employees at Sims Crane & Equipment enjoy an exercise session before work
Tax dollars can be made available to fund research that expands the public’s knowledge about the benefits of certain foods in fighting diseases such as cancer, arthritis and diabetes.
Ultimately, however, what people consume comes down to personal choice. A person must be open to learning about healthy foods as the basis of good nutrition. She must be willing to search out the stores that offer fresh fruits and vegetables and make healthy choices when shopping there. She must be willing to learn how to prepare food in healthier ways. She must offer her children healthy snacks and encourage them to be active and spend less time in front of the television or computer screen.
It can be extremely difficult to make changes to personal habits when it comes to grocery shopping, cooking and exercise. If nutrition is considered a personal issue, however, it is essential that such changes be made. It can be argued that public policy, such as the regulation of soda size sold at public venues, is necessary if citizens won’t take the personal responsibility to make healthier choices. This is especially true when taxpayers help pay for the medical outcomes of unhealthy choices.
It is not difficult to understand that nutrition is both a personal and a public issue. Each person must ultimately take responsibility for her own choices regarding healthy eating and lifestyle. However, since poor choices made by individuals may result in higher medical costs that affect the public at large, nutrition is also a public issue. Support can come from communities, states and other governing bodies to ensure the availability of healthier foods, provide education about good nutrition, and support research and other programs that encourage healthy lifestyle choices.
Trisha Vivona is a freelance writer and a student currently pursuing a degree in leadership and management in nursing. She values innovation, hard work, and a relentless approach to creating value for clients and stakeholders.