Hope the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. In 2008, New York became the first major city in the nation to set nutrition standards for all food purchased and served by city agencies. And a recent executive order signed by Mayor Adams renewed the city’s commitment to buying and serving nutritious food. Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering a similar policy to establish sound procurement policies, called food service guidelines, for state institutions, including government office buildings, entertainment parks, and more. state, correctional facilities, and state-supported universities and hospitals. This legislation would allow millions of New Yorkers fed by state agencies to eat more easily and healthily.
Food service guidelines, a policy strategy recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, can increase the availability of healthier foods, help people make healthier food choices and support local economies. They also demonstrate the government’s commitment to getting its own nutritional house in order, a clear message to its constituents.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, high rates of chronic disease threatened the lives of millions of New Yorkers. In 2015, an estimated 17% of all deaths in the state were attributable to poor diet and physical inactivity. New Yorkers with chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are at greater risk of being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19. The recent increase in COVID-19 cases is another reminder of the need to reduce the burden of chronic disease.
Plus, New Yorkers are ready for healthier choices. According to a survey of New York State residents commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in the fall of 2020, 71% of respondents believe that food served by state-supported institutions, such as universities and public hospitals, should include mainly or only healthy options. Additionally, 88% of respondents said they would support the state adopting guidelines to serve healthier food in state-supported agencies and institutions.
Additionally, the food service guidelines will likely cost little to implement, but have the potential to reduce state health care costs and boost the local economy. These bills would help shift the nearly $1 billion that state agencies spend on food each year to healthier, locally grown foods.
This legislation would also place New York State at the forefront of the nascent health equity movement. Black Americans are twice as likely to die of heart disease as white Americans, and the prevalence of diabetes is higher among black and brown adults than among white adults. The bills would also mitigate these disparities, as most state institutions feed socially at-risk people — such as people of color, low-income people, and people with disabilities — including state correctional facilities that incarcerate disproportionately black and brown people.
While COVID-19 has cast an unforgiving light on the prevalence and severity of chronic disease in New York City, poor diet predates the pandemic as one of the leading risk factors for premature death and disability in the State. As WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said, “Now is the time for governments to lead by example by ensuring that food served or sold in public places contributes to a healthy diet. healthy and save lives. No public funds should be spent on foods that contribute to unhealthy diets.
Lurie is president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.