Visualizing Health and the Farm Bill

Healthy Food Action launches the 2012 Healthy Food, Healthy Farms webinar series. With an eye toward envisioning a Farm Bill that promotes health, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Jennifer Billig will provide an overview of the Farm Bill and its intersections with public health, including the kinds of farming and eating the bill currently supports. Give us your feedback.

Roni Neff, PhD of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will enrich the discussion by sharing an innovative new web-based tool that allows visual analysis of Farm Bill spending. Using the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, Neff will answer questions like, “What portion of the overall Farm Bill goes to fruits and vegetables, to commodity crops, or to industrial food animal production?” and “How big are some of the public health initiatives within the Farm Bill?”, demonstrating graphically how the provisions and budgets within the bill tie into the nation’s public health and environmental sustainability. Beth Hoffman of Food+Tech Connect will also join us to share highlights from the Farm Bill Hackathon, an event held in early December that brought together policy experts with designers and developers to create more visually interesting representations of the Farm Bill.

Farm Subsidies=High Fructose Corn Syrup=Obesity: Or do they?

Farm subsidies for commodity crops such as corn and soybeans have long been decried by many in the public health community as the reason for the low cost of junk food relative to fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But are federal commodity crop payments (i.e. subsidies) really the culprit? Would ending them create a healthier American food environment and put products like high fructose corn syrup on the sidelines?  Presentation Slides.  Give us your feedback.

Subsidies, the thinking goes, have caused farmers to over produce corn and soybeans. Capitalizing on an inexpensive input, food manufacturers created high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil giving rise to a plethora of cheap, junk foods over-consumed by Americans, which in turn contributed to an epidemic of obesity.

IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga (co-author of a 2009 paper on US agriculture policy and the obesity epidemic) and Ben Lilliston will be joined by Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food and Water Watch to explore these questions, highlighted in a new paper published by FWW and the Public Health Institute, Do Farm Subsidies Cause Obesity? Dispelling Common Myths About Public Health and the Farm Bill.

Parents Stand Up For Food

Raise More Voices for Effective Farm Policy – Now!

The projected course of action regarding the Farm Bill changed dramatically over the past two weeks. The general expectation was a spring 2012 Farm Bill, with the possibility that Presidential election politics would push things back to potentially 2013. Now it seems that the odds-on favorite is to have a Farm Bill introduced any day now as part of the super committee budget reduction process.As IATP’s Ben Lilliston described last week, the super committee process would throw democracy and transparency out the window –
“The 12-member Super Committee will consider these recommendations in secret. Then, the Super Committee’s proposal on the Farm Bill will be presented after November 23 and put to a simple up or down vote in December.  No hearings, no amendments, no debate. Under this scenario, we may have very little idea about what is in the Farm Bill until after it has passed.”

What are our options at this point? Clearly this isn’t a “business as usual” Farm Bill process, and our usual tactics of creating coalitions of family farm, conservation and public health groups are insufficient. Congressional leaders will be forcing members to have one up or down vote on an enormous piece of debt reduction legislation, and no input will be allowed from most of the elected officials that we count on for an effective democratic process.

Our best – and perhaps only – option is to make more noise with more voices. While the number of people that have a clear position on issues such as direct payments, SNAP and CRP is limited, eating is universal. And many of those eaters are particularly cautious about food and diet because they care for children, or have a family member with health concerns, or have health concerns of their own.

IATP Food and Community alum Nicole Betancourt and her colleagues at ParentEarth have done amazing work increasing parents’ awareness of the Farm Bill through video. Watch this video and pass it along. Stay up-to-date on health-related Farm Bill issues through Healthy Food Action. Join Understanding the Farm Bill on Facebook. And make it clear to your federally elected officials that a secret Farm Bill will not be tolerated. They will be hearing from us!

 – by Mark Muller

School Food Revolution? The state of the school lunch tray and efforts to improve kids’ health

The nation’s attention is riveted on school food these days. Are the days of tater tots and chocolate milk on school lunch trays numbered? A movement to improve the food kids get at school is underway, but is it working?  View presentation slides.  Give us your feedback.

Two years ago, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued new nutrition guidelines for school food. One year later President Obama included several of IOM’s recommendations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Meanwhile, parents and school leaders around the country have been working to improve the food kids are served at school.

In this webinar we’ll have insiders from the school food movement answer some key questions about recent changes: Are these efforts positively impacting children’s health? Given budget constraints, is it realistic to expect schools to meet the new IOM standards? Is new demand for local foods in schools benefitting farmers?

JoAnne Berkenkamp of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), along with Toni Liquori and Laura Stanley from School Food FOCUS, will provide a snapshot of the work that’s already underway, including a case study from Chicago, and discuss what lies ahead in the quest to improve school food and children’s health.

View presentation slides.

Give us your feedback.

Food Justice or Junk Food?

Recently first lady Michelle Obama announced a partnership with Wal-Mart, Supervalu and Walgreens to combat the issue of food access in communities called food deserts—usually in urban communities and characterized by a lack of access to healthy food options and an over-abundance of fast food.  View presentation slides.  Give us your feedback.

Food deserts have been painted as areas where residents have limited or no access to retail food options—specifically, major-chain grocery stores. Recent initiatives, such as the White House partnership with Wal-Mart, Supervalu and Walgreens, have been launched to create “food oases” by building more big-box stores. The premise behind this initiative says that building supermarkets in food deserts will increase access to, and consumption of, healthy foods, i.e., fresh fruit and vegetables. An added benefit to this expansion, claim the superstores, is job creation. Wal-Mart representatives describe many of these “food deserts” as “job deserts.”

A recent study has concluded that increased supermarket access “does not translate into improvements in diet and health”—and instead tied health to the prevalence of fast food restaurants. This study has implications not just for the White House initiatives but also for food systems activists, urban farmers and food entrepreneurs grappling with the complex intersection of race, class and healthy food access and consumption.

Dr. Janne Boone-Heinonen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, presents the research from the Fast Food Restaurants and Food Stores Study which she conducted at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. LaDonna Redmond, IATP’s food and justice senior program associate, moderates.

The webinar discussion includes an overview of the research and findings, followed by a question and answer session.


Food, Hormones and Patient Health

Exposure to environmental hormones, called “hormone or endocrine disruptors,” is contributing increasingly to chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes and infertility that manifest throughout our patients’ lives. Patients are exposed to hormone disruptors in large part via a contaminated food chain. Food contaminants include certain pesticides, PCBs and dioxins, arsenic, steroid hormones, and compounds like bisphenol A, originating from food packaging. Give us your feedback on this webinar.

Dr. Joanne Perron, an Ob-Gyn with the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) will review the cutting-edge science driving the work of its Food Matters project. Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) leader Kathy Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York, will discuss how reforms to federal policies could help keep hormone disruptors out of the food supply. The American Nurses Association’s Holly Carpenter, R.N., B.S.N., will present the ‘Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System,’ prepared by the Food Systems and Public Health Conference Work Team funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

View presentation slides.

What It Takes to Grow Healthy Food: Views from the Farm

Increasing access to healthy food is one key mechanism for stemming the tide of obesity and diabetes sweeping America’s young and old. But, what does it take to grow healthy food? Give us your feedback. Fruit and vegetable growers in all parts of the United States face disproportionate challenges to those faced by growers of commodity crops—including greater financial risk. Hear from three individuals with a farming perspective on the challenges of growing healthy food and insight into the impacts of the Farm Bill and other federal policies.

Our panelists are Ben Burkett, a 4th generation vegetable farmer from Petal, Mississippi and the Director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives; Jack Hedin, an organic vegetable farmer and owner of Featherstone Farms in Rushford, MN; and Scott Marlow, director of Farm Sustainability for the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA.

Health, Justice and Industrialized Meat Production

Today’s predominant, industrialized farm animal production facilities raise huge numbers of livestock in small geographic areas, producing enormous concentrations of waste that pollutes air and water.  Give us Your Feedback

As a result, these Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) create a number of problems for the health of the environment and the people living in it, including increased respiratory symptoms, antibiotic resistance and decreased quality of life.

Like other highly polluting industries, CAFOs are disproportionately located in low-income areas and communities of color. For more than a decade, Steve Wing and colleagues at the University of North Carolina have been studying the health effects of hog CAFOs in collaboration with community-based organizations in eastern North Carolina. He presents their most recent findings, to appear in Epidemiology in March 2011. Naeema Muhammad, from Concerned Citizens of Tillery, the lead community organization in this research, will discuss community involvement and how the research has contributed to organizing and public education efforts.

Preventing Obesity by Acting Locally

The recent and exploding epidemic of child obesity is upon us. Obesity among teens is more than three and a half times more prevalent than three decades ago. The solution is multifaceted, but local government action is essential according to an Institute of Medicine Committee convened in 2008 to focus on preventative actions for local governments.  Slides   Give us Your Feedback

Jim Krieger, MD, MPH, a physician and member of that committee talks about how the recommendations are being implemented across the country, including in Seattle’s King County, where he is the Chief of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. Tom Forster, Policy Advisor for School Food FOCUS, talks about how federal policies, such as the Farm Bill, help and hinder food systems change at the local level. In the 2008 Farm Bill, Tom worked to win new community food programs as policy director of the Community Food Security Coalition.

SNAP & Soda: Who’s Business is it Anyway?

Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to seek federal permission to bar  the city’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamp (now known as SNAP) benefits from purchasing sugar-sweetened beverages. The proposed ban would be for two years, with assessment to determine whether it should be made permanent. New York City’s SNAP recipients spend an estimated $75 million to $135 million of their $2.7 billion in food stamps annually on soda, though this figure is contested by some advocates.

The controversial plan has surfaced differences in perspective between anti-hunger groups who believe food stamp recipients deserve the freedom to spend their benefits as they see fit, and public health advocates concerned about obesity, who see an opportunity to discourage consumption of high-calorie beverages that contribute to that problem

Both anti-hunger and public health groups want to see Americans – especially lower income Americans — eat more and healthier food. Can common ground be found to achieve that broader goal?  Does the New York City proposal present a hurdle to the health and hunger communities building a united front against a food system that has left many Americans both obese and undernourished? Can reasoned discussion create this united movement as Congress moves to reauthorize both the Child Nutrition Act and the next Farm Bill (which provides the authorization for SNAP)?

Presenters:  Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale will be articulating a public health perspective on the issue; Joel Berg, Executive Director of the NYC Coalition against Hunger will provide an “on the ground” perspective in New York, and Ed Cooney, Executive Director of the Congressional Hunger Center will be giving a big picture view about how this municipal legislation could be a precursor to forthcoming Farm Bill debates.