A New Name: Food Systems for Health
March 6, 2023
As of March 6, 2023, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is renaming the “obesity and the food system” focus area to “food systems for health.” The name change reflects the importance of diet to the health of millions of Americans – and points the way to solutions that will save many lives. This shift in framing was informed by input from fellows and a steering committee who desired language that aligned with the focus area’s comprehensive approach to improving the health returns on our nation’s food system.
While a nutritious diet is essential for health, there are many factors within the food system that occur above the consumer level that can affect health outcomes. Food production, physical access, workers’ rights, environmental impacts, and social inequities, such as racism and poverty, all coalesce to create a food system that is not sustainable or healthy. While no community is left untouched, communities that bear the heaviest burden of the adverse outputs of our existing food system are also most impacted by conditions associated with diet such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
These conditions fall under the term “chronic disease”. But as Dr. Sonia Angell, Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of American Health, says, “This term lures us into believing that attention can wait. That’s simply not true.” Dr. Angell explains, “COVID-19 painfully showed us that high rates of chronic diseases make us all vulnerable in the face of a quickly moving infectious agent. Preventing chronic diseases is part of pandemic preparedness. Preventing chronic diseases will support healthy resilient communities. Preventing chronic diseases requires good nutrition.”
Many people see diet as simply the sum of individual food choices. But this view misses the big picture. Dr. Angell says, “You can’t make healthy choices if you don’t have healthy choices.” She continues, “The food that’s around us, also called our food environment, and our food system at-large, determine the choices we have.”
The “food systems for health” focus area of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative will focus on many dimensions of how food systems relate to health and equity, from food insecurity and the quality of our diet to the long-term sustainability of food production and distribution. To improve nutrition and food security and decrease food system related illness and mortality, the Initiative will partner with communities and collaborating organizations to advance just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable food systems.
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