On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Sarah Blackburn from Edible Boston sits down with Dr. Sara Bleich, Professor of Public Health Policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, to talk about improving public health through better policy. “Drive policy that focuses on the behaviors which cluster among the highest risk groups,” says Dr. Bleich, “you could have population impact, but you could also address equity and really try to improve everyone at the same time by improving people who are at higher risk of diet-related diseases.”
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Policies that demonstrate this impact, according to Dr. Bleich, include beverage or soda taxes—and cities with these taxes are seeing widespread consumer change. “In Berkley, we saw about a 10 percent decline [in beverage purchases]. In Philadelphia, we saw a 38 percent decline—and that is after accounting for the fact that there are people taking their baskets out of the city to buy sugary beverages because they don’t want to pay the tax,” says Dr. Bleich. “So that is an enormous health win… if I had to pick a handful of [policy goals], one of them would be sugary beverages.”
“There are a lot of agricultural policy changes you can make through the Farm Bill to change the incentives such that we have less high fructose corn syrup in our diet and we have less processed food in our diet,” says Dr. Bleich. But Dr. Bleich notes that these changes are very hard to push at the federal level because special interest and lobby groups play a large role in deciding policy and government priorities. “The size of the public health and nutrition voice is tiny compared to the big dollars in the room,” says Dr. Bleich.
“But one of the biggest policy problems is that nutrition policy is siloed, economic policy is siloed, and agricultural policy is siloed,” says Dr. Bleich. “I think where nutrition policy might actually have the biggest advances is by partnering with the environmentalists and making a lot of changes in regards to sustainability.” And, consumers can play a role in increasing awareness about nutrition policy to their communities and their local policymakers. “This is an important moment. People are paying attention,” says Dr. Bleich. “We need people who are going to be representing us to talk about the issues that can actually improve our lives. That’s where we can play a role.”