Communities offered $650m to cut junk food, promote health

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Public health Health

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that reducing poor food choices and improving nutrition is a top priority for a $650m locally led initiative to improve health in US communities.

As American rates of overweight and obesity have swelled to more than two-thirds of the population, the federal government has considered a host of ways to tip the scales in the other direction, toward healthier lifestyles, including taxation on high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and beverages, and changes in the way health is promoted. This latest scheme takes a grassroots approach by asking tribes and communities to present evidence-based strategies to encourage healthy choices.

The funds, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are available as cooperative health agreements as part of a public health project called Communities Putting Prevention to Work​, to be led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who announced the initiative on Thursday, said: “This initiative will make disease prevention and health promotion top priorities in states and communities across the country. Preventing disease is vital as a strategy to improve our nation’s health and reduce health care costs.”

Whether a particular community receives funding will be dependent on a competitive selection process.

The HHS said that strategies could include, for example, a plan to reduce the number of high-fat foods or sugar-sweetened beverages available in community centers and schools.

Initially, $373m will be on offer, with the remainder becoming available in the coming weeks to support, extend and evaluate the impact of community-based projects.

Other strategies should focus on implementing strict smoking bans and promoting good quality physical activity, the HHS said.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden said: “Chronic diseases linked to obesity, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and tobacco use are the leading causes of death and disability in our nation. These additional resources will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans.”

Those communities and tribes that receive funding will have two years to fully implement their programs.

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