Research findings and simulations point to effects of food and nutrition-related public policy

Many policies are being implemented or considered to try to steer people toward healthier food choices. The inaugural Nutrition 2018 meetings, the flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition being held June 9-12 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts, featured studies that evaluate the impacts of existing policies and seek to inform the design of future ones.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides food and other assistance for low-income women and their children under age 5. In a new study, researchers found that boys between the ages of 12-18 living in WIC households ate significantly more fruits and vegetables than children of the same age from non-WIC households with similar income levels. Also, children over 5 years old living in Hispanic households receiving WIC consumed less sugar-sweetened beverages than children in non-WIC Hispanic households. Stephanie Nicole Steeves, Arizona State University, presented the research.

Recent public health efforts have encouraged local communities to support healthy eating by increasing access to affordable, healthy foods. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study assesses incentives offered by U.S. towns and cities to help food retailers offer more healthy food options in their communities. The study reveals that most municipalities offered incentives for farmers markets and other produce vendors, but fewer offered incentives to open new supermarkets or help existing smaller stores offer more healthy options. Sam Lange, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Fellow at the CDC, discussed the research.  

Some governments are considering requiring restaurants to post warning labels next to menu items that contain more than a day's recommended intake of sodium. Researchers recently tested a variety of designs for such labels in a series of randomized controlled experiments. The results suggest sodium warning labels can increase sodium knowledge and affect perceptions, particularly when a stop sign or traffic light scheme with "sodium warning" text is used to indicate when sodium levels exceed recommendations, though it remains unclear whether these labels will influence actual food choices. This research was presented by Aviva Musicus, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

As a U.S. ban on trans fats in processed foods goes into effect this year, other countries have been considering similar bans. In a new study, Australian researchers estimate that banning trans fats in that country would reduce health disparities, avert tens of thousands of deaths related to ischemic heart disease, and save the country more than a billion dollars in health care costs, which Jason Wu, University of New South Wales, discussed this past weekend.

Abstracts presented at Nutrition 2018 were evaluated and selected by a committee of experts, but have not generally undergone the same peer review process required for publication in a scientific journal. As such, the findings presented should be considered preliminary until a peer-reviewed publication is available, according to meeting officials.