NPHW Day 4: Eat Well

April 7-13, 2014 is National Public Health Week. Each day this week we will look at another aspect of public health, courtesy of the NPHW Daily Themes.

Eat Well

The system that keeps our nation’s food safe and healthy is complex. There is a lot of information to parse in order to understand food labels and to learn the best practices during a food borne illness outbreak. Public health professionals can help guide people through their choices.

Did you know?

  • The Affordable Care Act extends to food safety and information with new requirements for food labeling. Under the new law, restaurants are required to list the number of calories in each standard menu item, must put the caloric content in context, additional nutritional information must be made available to consumers and the number of calories per serving must be visible on self-service foods. [1]
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, released on Jan. 31, 2011, emphasizes three major goals for Americans: Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight, consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood, and consume fewer foods with sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and refined grains. [2]
  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government agencies to revise the dietary guidelines for release in 2015.
  • In total, we are now eating 31 percent more calories than we were 40 years ago — including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American now eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970. [3]
  • USDA led efforts to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, legislation that paves the way to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for nearly 32 million children who eat school lunch each day and the 12 million who eat breakfast at school. [4]
  • Food borne contaminants cause an average of 5,000 deaths, 325,000 hospitalizations and 76 million illnesses and cost billions of dollars annually.  The five most common food borne pathogens cost the U.S. economy more than $44 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity. [5]

Start Here:

  • Host a roundtable event with local chefs or nutrition experts to help the community better understand the meaning of food labels. Work with community leaders to spread information on meal planning and nutritional requirements for people of all ages.
  • Ask local restaurants to provide nutrition information on their menus, as newly required by the ACA’s food labeling law.
  • Sponsor a community wide “meatless Monday” where everyone forgoes meat for one day to help individuals and families learn how to cut back on fats and enjoy adding more fruits and vegetables into their diets. Share recipes and snacks that are plant-based.
  • Support local farmers markets and other access points to fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s not only good for your health; it’s good for the local economy too.
  • Create a local health movement! Start a healthy food co-op, organize a canning circle, gather a walking group or form a club dedicated to volunteering. Visit for more information and resources to encourage healthier activities in your community.
  • Work with local schools to help them educate children on healthy eating habits early. Encourage community members to volunteer to serve healthy lunches and breakfasts to school aged kids.
  • Chilling foods to proper temperatures is one of the best ways to slow the growth of bacteria. An efficient kitchen refrigerator is the most effective tool in protecting families from food-borne illnesses. Make sure refrigerators are kept at 40° F or below; the freezer should be at 0° F. Since few refrigerator controls show actual temperatures, using an inexpensive freestanding appliance thermometer can monitor temperatures to make sure they’re at the right levels for optimal food safety.

[1] Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers Regarding the Effect of Section 4205 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 on State and Local Menu and Vending Machine Labeling Laws, FDA

[2] Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

[5] APHA Issue Brief, Creating a Safe Food System for America, 2009,