Home > Healthy communities, Obesity prevention > Policymakers Need to Consider Health in All Decisions

Policymakers Need to Consider Health in All Decisions

  by Marion Standish
Director, Community Health, The California Endowment(Marion is a former colleague and leader on health disparities.  She was the founder and director of California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), a statewide nutrition and health research and advocacy organization focusing on access to nutritious food for low-income families.)

Obesity is an epidemic, here in California and across the nation. It strains our health care system, diminishes economic competitiveness, and is one of the leading causes of preventable disease in California. In fact, some researchers warn that if the obesity epidemic continues to grow unchecked, the current generation of young people may be the first in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Traditional obesity prevention programs have bypassed policymakers, instead relying solely on public education to make a difference. At The California Endowment, we think that’s an incomplete strategy. While direct public outreach is essential, it’s just as important to craft public policies that make our communities healthy places to live, learn, and work.

The evidence is crystal clear. When communities are healthy, people are healthy. When schools offer quality PE classes, students are more active. When they offer healthy food in the cafeteria and banish soda and other sugary drinks from school grounds, kids eat better. Similar benefits extend to local neighborhoods. For every park and playground in a community, obesity risk declines.  And a growing body of evidence suggests that farmers’ markets, produce stands, and quality grocery stores are essential for helping parents to prepare healthy meals for their families.

For the greatest impact, policymakers need to consider the health impact of every decision they make. Even seemingly unrelated issues—like zoning, economic development, and transportation—can have a major impact on the health of local communities. For example, transportation planners should include sidewalks and bike lanes on new construction projects, so residents have real alternatives to driving. And when setting zoning priorities, why not emphasize healthy retail food outlets over fast food joints?

At The California Endowment, we believe strongly that if Californians are given the opportunity to make healthy decisions, they’ll leap at the chance. But it’s up to policymakers and other community leaders to make sure those healthy choices are possible.

To learn more about how the communities we support have created healthier environments, visit the Success Stories section of The California Endowment’s web site.

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