The food and nutrition environment is widely believed to contribute to the epidemic of obesity in the United States and globally. Education efforts aimed to increase healthy eating behavior often fall short because the environment in which those behaviors are expected to be practiced is not conducive to healthful eating. Policy changes in terms of one's nutritional environment can be designed to support, rather than undermine, healthy behavior change.
Potential Policy Improvements
Require nutritional content labeling in restaurants with more than 15 locations: Nutritional labeling allows consumers to make educated decisions. It is anticipated that smaller, locally owned establishments will argue that it is too expensive to do so, and for this reason, the policy would target larger chains of establishments only.
Alter zoning policies to support provision of healthy foods: Zoning regulation could include specific incentives for smaller "convenience" stores which offer healthy food alternatives and fresh produce. Another example of such a policy would be instituting a zoning policy which limits fast food restaurants within a certain distance of schools.
Limit marketing of "junk" foods to children: Require that grocery stores and markets do not place junk food at children's eye-level. A complimentary example of a policy which limits marketing to children would be requiring a one-to-one match on television advertising, perhaps by requiring corporations to subsidize the USDA's marketing of produce.
The Healthy Eating Active Living Convergence Partnership has packaged these and other recommendations neatly in the Promising Strategies for Creating Healthy Eating and Active Living Environments available at: http://www.convergencepartnership.org/
An excellent meta-analysis into healthy food access in the U.S. is: Larson NI, Story MT, Nelson MC. Neighborhood Environments: Disparities in Access to Healthy Foods in the U.S. Am J Prev Med 2009;36(1):74-81.