The below interview is a continuation of an interview with Angela Tagtow, Executive Director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the USDA. Part 1 of this interview can be found here.
Tell me about the challenges of nutrition policy.
I imagine health policy falling into one of two categories, little-p policy (LPP) or big-p policy (BPP). LPP is a socioecological approach to policy, using individuals and organizations to make decisions to improve public health that don’t require an elected official. BPP requires elected officials to create broader, more top-down initiatives to improve public health. Both types of policy working in concert can create greater collective impact.
Many people see BPP as the primary driver of policy, but LPP can be very effective to improve community health. The Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative exemplifies the power of LPP. Through the initiative they recruited hundreds of community stakeholders to make commitments to improve public health whether that is at home, school, workplace or throughout the community. Starting the initiative was a slow process built on networking and strengthening relationships, but proved to make an impact in the lives of community members.
BPP also creates change, but has its own challenges. It can take several years for State or Federal programs to be fully implemented. For example, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law back in 2010, and we’re still seeing elements roll out. At the Federal level, Congress is another aspect that makes BPP challenging. Each Congressperson has a different perspective and set of values with respect to healthy food access, nutrition, public health. The ability to recognize their priorities and influencers is an important part of building support behind an initiative.
Given the number of different opinions and interests regarding public health, do you think there’s a way to make everyone happy?
There’s always going to be struggle. Every organization out there has a set of goals that are different from the next organization. Industry has an interest to protect its products and public health has an interest to keep people healthy. These goals are not always aligned, so there are challenges.
The media often reports on about industry trying to make changes to their offerings in the name of public health. Do you think these efforts are genuine?
Not all industry should be discounted. Some companies do consider how their products and services contribute to public health and are trying to make a difference. But for others, they need to evaluate whether they are doing all that they could be doing.
What are some of the future goals for the USDA and the CNPP?
The CNPP does much more than just produce the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and the iconic MyPlate. The Nutrition Evidence Library, a very rigorous review of the literature that directly informs the DGA. The CNPP also makes many tools and online resources available to assist individuals with eating and physical activity goals. ChooseMyPlate.gov and Supertracker.usda.gov are dynamic online resources for individual, families and professionals that put the Dietary Guidelines for Americans into action.
In the near term, the launch of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act are the top priorities. Some policymakers are challenging the validity of improving child health, and the House and Senate have inserted language in appropriation bills that will restrict USDA and HHS’s abilities to create the Dietary Guidelines. It’s a very interesting political time regarding advancing the nutritional health of Americans.
Do you have any final advice for students?
Yes, be engaged. Having a good grasp of the content knowledge and political processes are good, but having contacts and networks is just as important. Knowing key people who create change and understanding how to work with them will allow you to be more effective in your endeavors. We need more people to get engaged with nutrition and public health efforts.