Access to a wide variety of nutritious and affordable food is an important component of health. Where people live influences the variety and availability of nutritious food. Community Health looks at where and how food is grown, produced, and distributed in the U.S. and the impact this can have on health. To complement this information, Community Health focuses on ways for people to recognize and listen to their hunger and fullness, while also allowing for flexibility in their eating. Flexible, internally guided eating allows for:
A common public health approach to nutrition is to focus on food as it relates to weight maintenance and weight loss. There may be unintended harmful consequences to this approach. For instance, it may impair the way we think about and educate people about making “good” or “healthy” food choices. It may also limit our understanding of health such that people do not understand food, eating, and health outside the context of weight. Often because the current public conversation about food and eating is dominated by weight, we don’t explore our broader connections to food, eating, and overall well-being. Based on this approach, we also tend to leave out information about our food system and the impacts of it on low income and rural populations. Some more effective public health approaches could be:
Increasingly, research shows that nutrition is a key determinant of health. What people eat is greatly related to cultural background, the cost of food, time they have to prepare it, knowledge of food preparation and cooking, and access to a wide variety of food. The increasing incidence of food deserts in the U.S. presents concerns about meeting the nutritional needs of many communities. The reliance on short-term diets that focus primarily on food and calorie restrictions is not an effective way to maintain a stable or healthy weight and also seems to contribute to psychological and emotional harm. In fact, studies indicate that frequent dieting increases the presence of poor health indicators. Research shows that changing the focus on food and eating from weight maintenance to internal regulation has been shown to improve health markers such as cholesterol and triglycerides, but also emotional components of health such as self-esteem.