Center for Science in the Public Interest

Food for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

Lead Organization

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Washington, D.C., United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Food is the single biggest threat to human health and environmental sustainability, accounting for 1 in 5 adult deaths and a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. This year's landmark EAT-Lancet report concluded that a shift towards healthy, sustainable food patterns is urgently needed to prevent disease and further planetary degradation.This project would leverage tens of billions of public dollars spent on food by federal, state, and local agencies through foodservice guidelines—a proven, cost-effective solution to promote the health of people and the planet. Public agencies serve low-income families and communities of color, who experience disparities in disease burden and access to healthy food and are expected to face the greatest burden from climate change. CSPI and JHSPH will work with communities to scale-up the use of healthy, sustainable food guidelines, a sweeping first step toward operationalizing the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet report.

Problem Statement

The standard American diet (SAD) is a leading contributor to climate change, as well as loss of biodiversity, freshwater use, antibiotic resistance, and nitrogen and phosphorous pollution of waterways. Eating patterns too high in red and processed meat, refined grains, sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars, and too low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contribute significantly to the leading causes of death—heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. People of color and with lower incomes experience greater burdens of diet-related disease and are expected to be disproportionately impacted by climate change.Federal, state, and local governments spend billions of dollars on food and beverages served in schools, hospitals, worksites, correctional facilities, military commissaries, childcare centers, universities, homeless and women’s shelters, and senior centers. Public institutions and government-sponsored feeding programs often provide a greater proportion of the diet to members of disadvantaged populations—people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, and incarcerated individuals. Therefore, when foods served by public agencies do not align with health recommendations, it has the most harmful impact on the most vulnerable among us. Channeling public food dollars toward the standard American diet without regard for sustainable sourcing reinforces our broken food system. Public food purchasing can be leveraged both to drive consumption of healthier foods and to spur the food industry to shift its production and processing practices for the better—to shift the food system toward food that is better for people and the planet.

Solution Overview

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health defines a healthy and sustainable eating pattern. Through a cost-effective, politically noncontroversial, and achievable approach, this project will operationalize the EAT-Lancet recommendations for tens of millions of people, particularly those hit hardest by the leading causes of death and who have less access to healthy, sustainably produced food.Public food programs feed tens of millions of people. States, communities, and institutions can shift their food purchases to support the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. We will build on our prior successes in schools and other public venues to shift billions of tax dollars that are already being spent on food to food that supports the environment and human health. We will expand the application of food guidelines to the full-range of foods and beverages that large institutions and governments purchase, sell, and serve—from government buildings and parks to hospitals, prisons, childcare, universities, shelters, and senior meal programs. Public institutions serve millions of low-income families and people of color, who experience disparities in disease burden and in access to healthy food, underscoring the need for such policies. We will know we have succeeded if in 5 years, 20 states, 20 large cities, and 20 rural communities have implemented comprehensive food guidelines for the majority of the food they sell, serve, and purchase. This will put us on a path toward most states and localities shifting their purchases to healthy, sustainable food over the next decade.

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Project Funders

  • Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 - 2019
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Voices for Healthy Kids 2018 - 2019
  • Special Olympics International 2018 - 2019

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