What we eat is influenced by the quality, variety, and cost of what’s available to us. A new report by CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, shows how healthy food procurement policies make healthier options the easy choice. Titled “Healthy Food Procurement in American Cities: Leveraging Local Purchasing Power to Fight Obesity,” the report also rates the nation’s largest 40 cities on their food procurement policies.

Obesity rates have risen steadily over the past two decades, and the costs of this epidemic to cities is high — in health care costs, lost productivity, and human suffering. Offering healthy foods is one tool city leaders can use to reverse the tide of the obesity epidemic and help residents achieve a higher quality of life. While there are many factors that drive how individuals make food choices, evidence shows us that what people eat is heavily influenced by food access and availability, as well as the quality, variety, and cost of food and beverages served and sold in stores, restaurants, workplaces, schools, and other community institutions.

Many cities are leveraging policies that improve opportunities for people to eat healthy and be more active. Strong healthy food procurement policies ensure that healthy food options are available in city-owned or controlled places and give city residents food choices that can help them achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

“It’s smart to look upstream,” said Shelley Hearne, president of CityHealth. “Cities are looking now to prevention-oriented solutions that everyone can support. Health is driven by so many social determinants like education and socioeconomic status. But food procurement is a good first step for cities to take because it’s something they can fully control.”

Hearne said that cities should look to examples set by others, but understand that each municipality has unique needs and constituencies. “What works in Seattle might not work in San Antonio,” she said. “The one thing that remains the same is that more and more Americans are demanding healthier options.”

CityHealth’s assessment of healthy food procurement policies includes whether the city has nutrition standards in place, and what percentage of foods and beverages sold on city property abide by those nutrition standards. In the 2019 assessment, nine cities earned gold medals — Boston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

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