Many Massachusetts residents struggle to make the connection between what they eat and their health.  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.
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.
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.
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.  At the same time, there are now at least 39 states and some cities that subject sugar-added soda beverages to regular sales taxes.  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.
Recommendation 8.1: Improve the availability and effectiveness of public education about the direct diet-health connection.
Action 8.1.1: Identify ways to further utilize and leverage existing food-health awareness campaigns and initiatives that reinforce the food-health connection, including USDA’s MyPlate.
Action 8.1.2: Improve the format and distribution of the Massachusetts seasonal food calendars to increase understanding of locally harvested and caught foods available year-round.
Action 8.1.3: Examine the feasibility, and launch a public outreach campaign about the health and economic benefits of purchasing and consuming local food.
Action 8.1.4: Work in partnership with schools and childcare providers to send guides for parents on how to pack a healthy school lunch and snack. Provide support for guides and other materials that are sent out at the beginning of the school year.
Recommendation 8.2: Maintain and expand existing nutrition outreach programs.
Action 8.2.1: Build upon existing SNAP education programs by expanding public and private support for outreach and programming of existing nutrition education programs operated by UMass Extension SNAP Education and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Programs (EFNEP) and nonprofit organizations, such as Share Our Strength, to also include people who may not be receiving or are not eligible for nutrition assistance.
Action 8.2.2: Support and promote efforts by food retailers, medical service providers, school staff and volunteers, and other entities to offer “healthy diets on a budget” information and classes, especially at locations where complementary programming that engages adults, youth, and children are already planned.
Action 8.2.3: Increase State, local, nonprofit, and private investments to expand the number of community kitchens including expanding the usage of existing kitchens for delivery of nutrition education and cooking courses for seniors, adults, and youth.
Recommendation 8.3: Build more food system career pathways to advance knowledge about the direct effects of nutrition and the benefits of local food.
Action 8.3.1: Strengthen culinary certificate programs at community colleges. Educate school administrators about barriers to careers in the food system so these may be addressed in course offerings. Encourage and support partnerships between nonprofit organizations with culinary programs and community colleges to extend coursework and increase certificate opportunities.
Action 8.3.2: Pilot collaborative employment models in partnership with employers where food preparation workers move between food service jobs and farm-based processing work and other kinds of collaborative employment arrangements.
Recommendation 8.4: Use tax policy to encourage purchases of healthy, locally produced food.
Action 8.4.1: Eliminate the sales tax exemption for sugar-added soda beverages and direct the resulting tax revenue to nutrition programs that increase the access to, and consumption of, healthy foods, including locally produced foods.
Action 8.4.2: Monitor the implementation of FDA labeling requirements for product and calorie information on restaurant menus and vending machines. Study implications for Massachusetts consumers, businesses, and food providers.
 USDA Food and Drug Administration. (2008). Health and Diet Survey: Topline Frequency Report. Accessed November 2015 from http://goo.gl/ya3HRd.
 Reported by stakeholder participants in Massachusetts Food System Plan regional outreach sessions and interviews. 2013-2015.
 Harvard School of Public Health. (2011). Healthy Eating Plate vs. USDA’s MyPlate. Accessed November 2015 from http://goo.gl/yTP2Q3.
 UMass Amherst Extension (2014). Annual Report.
 Malik,Vasanit S., et. al. (2010). Sugar Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease risk. Circulation, 121(11), 1356-1364.
 Bray, George, A., et al. (2014). Dietary sugar and body weight: have we reached a crisis in the epidemic of obesity and diabetes? Health be damned! Pour on the sugar! Diabetes Care, 37(4), 950-956.
 Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2014). Existing Soft Drink Taxes. Accessed November 2015 from http://goo.gl/sAEk1E.