Connecting the Dots to Make Food Systems Sustainable

Sustainable and equitable food systems are a vital part of public health. This day of National Public Health Week (NPHW) highlights the critical need for better food and nutrition practices to promote health and well-being (1). Farmers across the United States have rallied against the negative effects of industrial agriculture on the environment, food supply chain, and public health (2). The American Public Health Association (APHA) has recommended policies that support a sustainable food system and address the disparities in accessing healthy food options that low-income and marginalized communities face (3). Food policy and nutrition are intertwined with public health.

An example of this strong connection is the Farm Bill, which is renewed every five years, and is a critical piece of legislation that sets policies and funding for agriculture, conservation, and nutrition programs. It is the vehicle for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and funding for school meals; it affects public nutrition not only by providing funds for food but by determining which foods participants can purchase.

The bill also determines US land-use policy through incentives and disincentives (for example, by providing grants to farmers to switch to water-conserving farming methods, or conversely by subsidizing water-polluting animal feedlots). The Farm Bill is due to be renewed this year, and the National Farmers Union brought farmers from across the United States together in Washington, DC on March 7 to advocate for climate action to be considered in the upcoming bill. These farmers are concerned not only for their own crops and animals but for the next generation of farmers as well. They are calling for investments in climate-smart agricultural practices such as soil-health management and renewable-energy generation.

Many other organizations, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, hope the Farm Bill can help address historical systemic injustices in farmland ownership, agricultural worker protections, climate resilience, and food insecurity (4). In 2014, the APHA published a report recognizing the need for a healthy, sustainable food system that promotes the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment. The current industrial food system, which relies heavily on pesticides, antibiotics, and fossil fuels, contributes to numerous health and environmental problems, and the industry has changed little in the years since that report was published. The APHA, in support of the Farm Bill, urges political officials to take action to address the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the pollution of waterways. The APHA recognizes the need for a shift towards a more sustainable food system that prioritizes local, organic, and plant-based foods; reduces food waste; and supports farmers and food workers.

The APHA highlights the effect our current food system has on low-income and marginalized communities, which are disproportionately affected by the current dysfunctional food system. These communities often have limited access to healthy food options and are more likely to live in areas with high levels of pollution from industrial agriculture. The APHA recommends policies and programs that address these disparities, such as increasing funding for SNAP and WIC, supporting community gardens and farmers’ markets in underserved areas, and promoting sustainable agriculture practices that prioritize the health of both people and the environment.

Creating healthier communities requires change at many levels. Overall, the goal of NPHW 2023 is to raise awareness about the critical role of food and nutrition in promoting health and well-being and to encourage action to address food-related health disparities. Lantana employees are public-health professionals with expertise in analytics, informatics, and healthcare. At the core of Lantana’s mission lies a desire to make a positive change in the public-health space, especially at the community level, improving long-term health outcomes.

Additionally, Lantana has an internal initiative called GreenLantana, which focuses on improving the long-term environmental health and well-being of our staff, the companies we work with, the communities we live in, and the planet we share. The initiative is our collective effort to measure, evaluate, and reduce our environmental footprint while we improve the social impact of our Lantana way of doing business. It emphasizes environmental responsibility, corporate social responsibility, and the triple bottom line—known as people, planet, and profit.