American Heart Association recommends food system changes to improve health

The American Heart Association (AHA) says system-wide improvements are needed for the U.S. food system that are sustainable and could potentially make it easier for consumers to eat healthfully, according to a new scientific advisory published in the journal Circulation.

Voluntary private sector approaches, when practiced widely, can favorably impact health behaviors, the advisory states. Examples include formulating new food products that are lower in calories or packaged as smaller serving sizes to reduce population-wide calorie consumption, improving the nutritional value of manufactured foods, product placement of healthier foods on grocery store shelves, and pricing strategies to encourage purchasing healthier foods, according to representatives from the AHA.

A few studies have shown positive changes in eating patterns and food selection when community-based approaches are initiated, said the AHA. For example, community organizations and school districts have implemented systems such as such labelling foods with traffic lights to indicate healthier foods. Some schools have data showing that students drink more water at school when it is readily available.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern is at the core of a healthy lifestyle that can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and the most common type of strokes and enhance overall wellbeing and brain health. It should emphasize vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; include low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts; and limit intake of sweets, sugary drinks, and red meat. However, adherence to healthy dietary patterns needs to be improved for most Americans, the AHA said.

The advisory paper lays the groundwork for continued thinking about a strategic policy agenda that supports an equitable, sustainable food system that provides healthy, affordable food for all. The AHA states it does not reflect their entire strategic policy agenda nor work that is happening at all levels of government. The AHA says it will continue to draw upon this scientific advisory and other association policy positions and statements to pursue a comprehensive public advocacy approach to nutrition policy.