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Call For Action To Define The Future Role Of Food In America

2 weeks, 3 days ago

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Posted on Jun 25, 2024, 3 p.m.

Alarming trends call for action to define the future role of food in American health. A new public opinion poll and expert analysis highlight the need to make healthy food accessible to avoid a projected crisis in incidences of cardiovascular disease and costs, according to a news release from the American Heart Association.

The new poll/report was conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of Research!America and the American Heart Association found that the cost of nutritious food and the lack of access to it are a significant concern to consumers across the nation. 68% of the respondents recognize that healthy eating habits are an important factor in improving the chances of living a long and healthy life. However, 53% said that the United States of America is not making enough progress for nutritious foods to be more affordable and accessible for everyone across the nation.

Predicting challenges by 2050 

The results of the U.S. Health and the Future of Food Report outlines steep challenges to improving nutritional security caused by systemic failures that can make it more difficult for Americans to access healthy food. It also details the urgent challenges to creating a food system that effectively integrates nutritious food into healthcare for the prevention, treatment, and care of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. 

“Efforts led by the American Heart Association have cut death rates from heart disease by half in the past 100 years, but as we look to our second century of existence, the trends are ominous,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association. “We are committed to averting a crisis of unparalleled health and economic burdens due to cardiovascular disease and obesity in the coming decades.”

A study published earlier this month in the journal Circulation predicts that if left unaddressed, obesity will be a significant driver of sharp increases in cardiovascular disease that are anticipated by 2050 which include but are not limited to:

  • Over 61% of American adults projected to have some form of cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity rates will increase by nearly 40% in adults and over 60% in children
  • Over 1 million people will have poor diet, which is the most prevalent factor affecting health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension

Cost and knowledge barriers to eating healthy

77% of the respondents said that they would like to eat healthier but they face barriers preventing them from doing so, with 60% reporting that they can’t afford to purchase nutritious options, 42% said that stress and emotional factors play a role in their dietary choices, 33% said that they don’t have time to prepare nutritious meals, and 32% don’t understand what foods are healthy or how to prepare them.

“The results show significant differences in how historically underrepresented groups rank the barriers to healthy eating,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, a nonprofit medical and research advocacy alliance. “Nearly 7 in 10 Asian American (66%) and Hispanic (68%) respondents said the cost of healthy food was their biggest barrier to healthy eating. Black respondents were more likely to cite gaps in knowledge about healthy food (38%) and difficulty accessing stores that carry a selection of nutrient-dense foods (25%) as barriers to healthy eating.”

Food insecurity

Results from this report implicate food and nutrition insecurity, ultra-processed foods, and the lack of resilient and adaptive food and agricultural systems as major contributors to poor diets. As demonstrated by 1 in 7 Americans facing food insecurity during 2022, with a total of 44 million people which includes 13 million children making it the highest rate since 2014. 

“The impact of food insecurity is felt disproportionately in rural (90%) and southern (80%) U.S. counties, but food and nutrition insecurity exist across the U.S.,” said James Cascone, partner, Deloitte Sustainability, Climate & Equity strategic growth offering and the Future of Food leader for the Americas. “Factors including consumer preferences, cultural norms, and unhealthy food marketing, compounded by social inequities and food and nutrition insecurity, impede access to healthy foods. The resulting decline in diet quality significantly raises the risk of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease.”

Poor diet

The typical American diet consists of nearly 60% ultra-processed foods that are high in refined grains, calories, sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. This type of food is generally selected more often than nutritionally healthier alternatives, according to the report. Based on these findings the report “calls for stakeholders including health care professionals, food industries, policymakers, and others to drive innovations that enable food systems to bolster health outcomes.”

“Healthy, nutritious food not only leads to better overall health – it can be a critical tool to treat, manage, and prevent chronic disease,” said Kevin Volpp, M.D., Ph.D., American Heart Association volunteer, scientific lead for the Association’s Food Is Medicine initiative Health Care by Food™, and founding director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School. “Cross-sector collaboration and research-backed innovation in public and private sector programs are needed to stem the combined tidal wave of obesity and nutrition insecurity, threatening the health of millions of people in the U.S. now and for decades to come.”

Call for action

“We must make bold moves to change the troubling trajectory of cardiovascular disease. That is why the American Heart Association will soon launch a novel, longitudinal direct-to-patient registry of individuals living with overweight and obesity and those prescribed treatment for weight management,” Brown said. “Building on our decades of experience in patient registries and inspired by the Framingham Heart Study, this groundbreaking registry will provide seminal research to improve understanding of the causes and treatments for obesity, and how obesity is managed by health care professionals.”

“Collaborative efforts from public and private entities are imperative to advance health and nutrition approaches that could shape the course of public health in the next century,” Brown said. “We invite stakeholders from across the health and nutrition sectors to join us in this fight to ensure that every person has access to nutritious food that leads to better health.”  

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. Additionally, it is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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