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Food insecurity was widespread in much of the US even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, The situation is much worse: According to estimates by Feeding America, a nonprofit organization One in six Americans is likely to be hungry as a direct result of the pandemic.

Additionally, even those with ample access to food may not be able to meet their nutritional needs, especially with social distancing mandates. Programs that connect peopleB. Farmers’ markets and community gardens are effectively being put on hold in much of the United States. Still, communities can promote nutrition education and the importance of food access in public spaces even in these challenging times.

For example, various park and recreation agencies have become community makeshift feeding centers that cater to the needs of low-income residents. Depending on the size of the community and the financial support offered, the country’s park and leisure agencies can offer a variety of services in the name of public health and access to healthy food.

Communities need to band together to highlight the importance of access to fresh, local food to public health and the health of the planets.

At feeding centers, agents can search for food insecurity and help clients apply SNAP or WIC Benefits, if any, and resources to promote nutritional literacy to encourage healthy decision making. Common areas such as leisure centers can also house food banks and farmers markets.

With communities of all sizes facing an uncertain future, nutrition education is more important than ever. This allows communities to better promote nutrition education in our public spaces.

The basics of nutrition

Even before the original Food Guide pyramid was introduced in the early 1990s, nutrition education was an integral part of the public school experience.

However, this education may not be enough to encourage an overarching diet change. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report “US students receive fewer than 8 hours of required nutrition education each school year, well below the 40 to 50 hours required to influence behavior change.”

Choosing the right diet for your own healthYou have to know what a balanced diet looks like and what to avoid. For starters, nutrition education programs should steer those faced with food insecurity away from diets that can produce short-term results but have long-term health consequences. Instead, healthy eating habits are based on a mindful eating plan that takes into account individual lifestyle, needs and personal tastes.

Interestingly, the global pandemic may present the perfect opportunity to prioritize nutrition education on a large scale. Community leaders can help fill these gaps by offering free online courses on topics like nutrition education, the basics of home cooking, and more. And when community and recreation centers reopen, these integral common spaces can be used creatively in the name of nutrition education.

Local food as a community building tool

And make no mistake – creativity is the key to adapting to the myriad of challenges that COVID brings. Even when individuals are physically distant, it is still possible to build a community while improving public health. Food connects people from all walks of life, despite physical distance, and it is important to learn where this food comes from.

In general, locally grown foods are healthier than foods that are transported long distances and are often highly processed. In addition, small farmers and food producers have a closer connection to nature than large companies. The reality is that most of the large food companies do not consider public health at all as the main goal is profit rather than providing food and nourishment.

As part of nutrition education programs, it is therefore vital that consumers understand how big companies are cutting back and tracking the nutritional content of myriad products. For example, Processed foods can contain harmful additives such as high fructose corn syrup, chemical source food colors, and sodium nitrate.

In discount stores across the country, milk and dairy products are usually purchased through factory farming, where animals are raised and slaughtered in an unhealthy environment.

Healthier communities for a healthier planet

However, the harmful effects of large-scale food production go far beyond humans and animals. The health of the earth itself is also at risk. In fact, big agriculture is helping to sustain climate change rather than containing it. Deforestation and air, soil and water pollution are the inevitable side effects of large-scale factory farming.

In response, communities need to band together to highlight the importance of access to fresh, local food to public and planetary health. While farmers markets and public school education programs help build healthier communities, access alone is not enough.

In every community, especially in low-income areas, nutrition education needs to be expanded so that individual behavior changes fundamentally. In the name of public health, common areas should be converted into feeding centers where education and outreach are the primary goals.

Jori Hamilton

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