Many Massachusetts residents struggle to make the connection between what they eat and their health.1 Also, there is a predominant public perception that a healthy diet that includes local fruits, vegetables, and meats is too expensive for the average family to afford and is only available during the summer months.2
As our bodies grow, change, and age, it is important to have an understanding of how food can help keep us nourished and healthy. Ongoing nutritional education is needed to support an understanding of food, nutrition, and health, and to inform eating choices in all places where people eat, shop, and make decisions about foods they will consume. The USDA’s MyPlate Dietary Guidelines for Americans, revised in 2010, are the most widely accepted standards for nutrition. While these are the most broadly accepted standards, they are not well known, and critiques by some, like the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School find that MyPlate does not offer a complete picture when it comes to basic nutrition.3
Effective programming exists that assists consumers with making healthy food choices, from shopping and budgeting to storage and preparation, and there is a need for more such programming. The UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program and Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program operate statewide SNAP Education programs that deliver practical, skills-based nutrition education to low-income families with young children, as well as youth up to age 18. The UMass Extension program is the most wide-reaching, and in 2014-2015 it directly engaged more than 44,000 residents through workshops, classes, and grocery store tours, and another 192,000 people through newsletters, videos, displays, demonstrations, and other indirect means.4
Ascentria Care Alliance in Springfield and Kit Clark Senior Services through Bay Cove Human Service in Boston also provide effective nutrition education programs. These agencies reach a smaller, but still significant number of consumers. Food bank and food pantry staff statewide are providing consumer information about how to shop and eat healthy food, including locally grown produce. These programs offer an effective channel for reaching people with education about nutrition, food shopping, and food preparation.
Some culinary programs offered at community colleges or through nonprofit organizations are providing valuable nutrition and culinary education programming, programming that is simultaneously growing an educated and skilled food service workforce. Some community- and shared-kitchens are also opening up their kitchens for programming that can include cooking, nutrition curriculum, and meal sharing. These resources and programs can be further developed and leveraged.
Lastly, multiple studies show that a proportion of the weight gain residents have experienced over the past 20 years is attributable to the consumption of sugary drinks and sodas.5,6 At the same time, there are now at least 39 states and some cities that subject sugar-added soda beverages to regular sales taxes.7 Massachusetts is now in the minority of states that does not tax sugar-added soda beverages, instead classifying them as “essential food items” that are exempt.