Publications_Flash.jpg

Observations in Health 

Observations - Summer 2011 - Wendy Peters Moschetti

Wendy Peters Moschetti
WPM Consulting

Ag Revolution Must Parallel Healthier Eating

By Sandy Graham
Photography by Stevan Maxwell

EDITOR'S NOTE: Wendy Peters Moschetti is the principal of Boulder-based WPM Consulting, which works with diverse partners to build healthier living environments. She staffs the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council and earlier helped develop the Colorado Food Policy Blueprint with LiveWell Colorado. Moschetti holds a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Washington and a master's degree in city planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

If all 311 million Americans decided tomorrow to switch to healthy meals that follow federal dietary guidelines, the country's food system would have to go into overdrive.

Land devoted to fruit harvest would have to more than double to 7.6 million acres and land for vegetables would have to increase by 137 percent to 15.3 million acres, according to a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dairy farmers would have to increase their production by 65 percent, or 108 million pounds. New food processing, distribution, storage, transportation and retail facilities also would be needed to get the nutritious bounty from field to market. This all could be an economic boon, but certainly not one that would happen overnight.

The numbers highlight the complexities of the nation's food system. It's clear that changing the American diet for the better requires much more than educating people about eating well and asking them to choose healthy foods, says Wendy Peters Moschetti, a consultant and expert in food systems.

"That type of information to me is profound. It's staggering," says Moschetti, who is the founder of WPM Consulting, a Boulder-based firm that works to create healthier living environments. "What's important to note is the disconnect between what we know we should eat and the food we produce."

Moschetti notes that the nation's complicated food system is more than its pieces. Environmental, social, economic and political forces all affect the system and influence what choices Americans are able to make about the foods they eat. In addition, the system varies by location – Coloradans, for example, are closer to the producers of grains and cattle than are people in many other states.

"It's so complex you have to take a product-by-product snapshot to see how food gets to us," Moschetti says.

Thus, bridging the rift between food production and healthy eating goals is no easy or small task, but Colorado is tackling it on many different fronts. Moschetti is helping guide LiveWell Colorado's food policy efforts. LiveWell, which is funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente and collaborates with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is working to reverse the growing numbers of obese and overweight Coloradans.

Although the state remains the only one in the nation with an adult obesity rate under 20 percent (at 19.1 percent in 2009), the rate has climbed faster in Colorado than in the nation as a whole. Colorado's children also are growing heavier: 14.2 percent were obese in 2009, up from 9.9 percent in 2003.

Most Coloradans do not eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily – and they are even less likely to eat five servings if they are overweight or obese. According to the Colorado Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, more than 19 percent of obese people and 24.4 percent of overweight people get five servings, while 29.8 percent of normal-weight Coloradans do. Worse, many nutrition experts now say people should aim for nine servings of produce daily. Since 2007, LiveWell has worked with communities and other stakeholders to encourage healthy eating and active living.

But negotiating the complexities of the food system, which entails the many steps to get edibles from ranch or farm into the hands of the public, required a map. In 2010, LiveWell issued the Food Policy Blueprint, which Moschetti helped produce with input from individuals and organizations throughout the state.

"We had great people to work with," she says of the blueprint's creation. "We identified eight policy recommendations that we could advance at local, state and federal levels. It wasn't overly challenging to get down consensus – we had very clear agreement on these."

Among the eight were recommendations to provide more incentives for healthy food production, link food assistance programs to local fresh food sources such as community gardens, develop a statewide farm-to-school program to get fresh foods into school meals and establish a financing initiative that would support healthy-food retailers where they are most needed. The full 40-page report is available at www.livewellcolorado.org.

The Colorado Legislature then authorized the Food Systems Advisory Council, which has begun to advance the recommendations. Its work received a boost when the state health department received a grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that focused in part on healthier school foods and improving food systems through land use policy.

In addition, communities all over the state are taking steps to bring healthy foods into markets, schools, backyard gardens and elsewhere. (See stories, 'Desert' Living and Doings in Derby.)

"The glorious thing about all of this is that for every one of our recommendations, there are individual communities that are moving ahead on them. ... Local innovation is critical here," says Moschetti.

Like turning a massive ocean liner, Colorado and the rest of the nation is gradually shaping a healthier food system. Some of those encouraging change "put their hands in the dirt," Moschetti says. "Some are born to be policy wonks. It's going to take all of us."