Healthy Food Choices? What Can Governments Do?

Published on Topic: Body Image, SheByShe News

Recently we asked women how they feel about government intervention in helping people make healthy food choices.  Boy, did we get an earful.

In the study, “Women’s Weight and Body Image Concerns” nearly half the women surveyed (47%) said they believe local, state and federal governments should be more involved in helping people make healthy food choices.

When asked specifically what the government should be doing, these women have a broad range of ideas related to increasing regulations, introducing new taxes, and increasing public education.  They also think the government should be working harder to make healthy food options more affordable, to introduce or improve school programs and to make healthy food more accessible. 

More than one-third of the women looking for more government involvement, think there should be more regulations in place related to healthy food.  Ideas about these regulations range from labeling laws, modified food stamp programs, ingredient bans, vending machine and fast food limits.  Many women believe unhealthy food should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco products.

As one SheByShe respondent said, “Ideally, the government would be involved in regulating foods on both ends, both by placing stricter regulations on the production end and discouraging consumers by placing taxes on high fat/sugar products.”

Another shares a similar view, “Impose taxes on foods and beverages that are lacking in nutrition and harmful to people's well-being”

A number of women think government food stamp programs should be modified so that only nutritious food is eligible. 

As one woman said, “People receiving food stamps should not be able to purchase junk food (soft drinks, cookies, chips, candy) with the tax payer's money. The money should be earmarked for healthy foods, and also not for convenience foods.”

Many women looking for more government involvement also want more regulations related to food labeling and providing restaurant food information.  A lot of women expressed specific concerns about genetically modified food (GMO).

A woman commented, “Require food labeling on foods containing GMOs and warnings when ingredients in food are suspected to be cancer causing, like aspartame.

One woman simply said, “Tell the truth about ingredients.” 

And, another said, “Mandate calories on menus.”

Fast Food and Restaurant Industry Changes

Several women mentioned the need for more regulation of the fast food and restaurant industry.  One believes there should be density control with a limited number of fast food establishments allowed in an area.  Another shares,  Fast food is ridiculously high in fat, carbs, and sodium...must be regulated better.  Another woman believes restaurant portion size should be regulated, and yet another thinks vending food machines should be banned.

Several women think employee cafeterias should be regulated to ensure they include healthy meal choices.

More Public Education Necessary

After increasing government regulations, increasing public education is the next most popular thing women think the government should do to help people make more healthy food choices.

For example, one woman said, “[The government should] promote more the benefits of healthy eating and discourage the fast food industry as becoming a staple in your household.”

Another SheByShe respondent stated, “Make nutrition classes more available. Offer classes for grade school - adults. The more free or reduced cost programs available, the more educated population we will have. Half the battle for eating right is knowing how to do it.”

Make Schools Healthier

Many respondents suggested more active school programs to promote healthy eating.

For example, one woman suggested, “Have exercise programs in school, not just gym class.  Every school should have a gardening program where kids learn how to grow vegetables.  There should also be culinary classes on cooking with better low fat ingredients and using the vegetables that they grew.”

Several women expressed concern about the healthiness of food served in school lunch programs. 

 One woman said, “Really change the junk kids get fed at school. Everywhere. Not just in the schools that are close to the White House and convenient for Michelle Obama to get to and take pictures with the kids there. We live 45 minutes away, and there is no sign of healthy anything in public schools.”

Another respondent advocates for more physical education in schools, “More funding should be provided for physical fitness in schools.”

Other Creative Suggestions

Women responding to the SheByShe survey had a number of creative suggestions.

Many women believe government policies and incentives should be modified or added to make healthy food choices more affordable.  

 One respondent said, “Stop subsidizing grain and start subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables. People living in poverty who rely on SNAP benefits [food stamps] or those who have very limited food budgets have many barriers to eating healthier. This includes the high prices of fresh produce and having to rely on local convenience stores where chips are cheaper than a banana (if that's even an option).”

Many women stated comments similar to this one, “Local fresh foods should be cheaper than processed, low nutritional foods.”

Another respondent offered, “raise minimum wage so people can afford healthier options.”

Similarly, a number of women shared ideas related to making healthy food more accessible, especially to low-income people. 

For example, one woman believes the government should “provide more markets with fresh fruit and vegetables in urban areas, giving people in low income housing the opportunity to make healthy choices as well.”

A few women shared ideas related to giving tax breaks for gym memberships or providing insurance company regulations, guidelines and incentives related to healthy living. 

One woman said, “Give tax breaks or offer incentives to those who attend gyms. Those who do not should not be punished, however. It should be more of a healthy person incentive.”

Another shared this view, “Maybe those who are repeatedly over weight, and are steadily gaining because of bad habits,  should be charged higher premiums each time they go to the doctor, or be made to go to a nutritionist at their expense, or have to go through some type if health training like people who commit crimes out of anger have to go to anger management.”

What’s your view? What creative suggestions do you have for government policies to address the obesity issue? Share your ideas in our comments section below.