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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Dairy Nutrition

Industry collaboration essential to achieving nutrition equity

Tammy Anderson-Wise

Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO of Dairy Council of California, is a guest columnist for Cheese Market News®.

Health starts in our communities and means more than the foods we eat and whether we are staying active. Factors such as the conditions in which people live, learn, work, play and gather also contribute to overall health and quality of life. This partially explains why some Americans are healthier than others and why some Americans are not as healthy as they could be. Called social determinants of health, these environmental conditions contribute to health outcomes and must be addressed to support healthier children, families and communities.

No single solution or organization can enable the change needed to adequately support the health and wellness of all people because environmental conditions are multifaceted. Rather, new thinking, collaboration at all levels and systemic change will be required to ensure all people can reach their full potential.

Fortunately, as awareness grows about the interconnectedness of social determinants of health and health outcomes, more focus is being placed on broader factors to achieve nutrition equity, meaning barriers are identified and resources are allocated so all people are supported to access healthful foods and gain nutrition knowledge.

Dairy Council of California is proud to be part of the solution, bringing this larger vision of identifying barriers and providing resources to life through two big efforts. First, we’ve launched Let’s Eat Healthy, a movement to empower healthier communities. Second, we are spearheading Well-Nourished, Brighter Futures, a statewide initiative that brings together community leaders and experts in nutrition, health and education to collaborate, coordinate and co-create realistic solutions to achieve nutrition equity and healthier communities.

A nutrition education organization, Dairy Council of California has educated, supported and empowered millions of children and families over the past century. We recognize that achieving nutrition equity is beyond what a single organization can do. By bringing together community leaders, experts and advocates across industries and at all levels to share knowledge and find solutions to support healthier people, we believe there are opportunities to positively position dairy foods like cheese, milk and yogurt as an important part of the solution to achieving nutrition equity.

• Dairy foods are much-needed quality foods

Dairy foods like cheese, milk and yogurt are nutrient-rich, affordable, accessible and culturally relevant. As conversations expand from looking at individual nutrients to overall food quality as drivers of health, the dairy community — including makers of cheese, milk, yogurt and other dairy foods — has a strong story to tell.

Dairy foods offer a unique package of nutrients that work together to provide multiple benefits, including optimal growth and development in children and reduced risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Access to dairy foods as part of a healthy eating pattern is especially important in underserved communities and during early childhood, since nutrition and diet quality can positively impact lifelong health. Unfortunately, many children and families, especially those living in marginalized communities, live with food insecurity.

According to Feeding America, an estimated 42 million Americans are struggling with food insecurity, and that number is expected to grow. Children are particularly vulnerable and impacted, with one in four — roughly 18 million children — expected to need food aid this year. During these challenging times, it is more important than ever to meet children’s most basic need, which is access to nutritious foods.

• Federal meal programs are a critical safety net

Millions of Americans rely on federal nutrition assistance programs for nourishment. WIC, National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs and other similar programs provide children, families and communities with access to nutritious foods like milk and dairy foods, which are needed to grow healthfully.

School meal programs, which provide students with access to nutrient-rich foods like milk and dairy foods, are an essential safety net because they help ensure children are able to access the nutrients they need to grow, learn and be healthy. Eating school meals every day is associated with healthier dietary intakes among U.S. schoolchildren and particularly with increased intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy. School meal programs are part of the solution to achieving healthier, brighter futures for children. For these reasons, it’s critical that the dairy community continue to educate, inform and elevate dairy’s important role in daily eating patterns and as a crucial part of school meals.

• Nutrition education + collaboration are vital

Nutrition education is another important piece of achieving nutrition equity. Today more than ever, people need evidence-based nutrition education to combat the misinformation around us. In addition, the educational environment is changing. To continue to be impactful, nutrition education opportunities must extend beyond the classroom.

At Dairy Council of California, we’re continuing to innovate and expand our robust portfolio of nutrition resources to support a broader range of learning environments, including online learning and non-traditional education models.

Through Well-Nourished, Brighter Futures, an initiative of the Let’s Eat Healthy movement, we are collaborating, coordinating and co-creating to find realistic, actionable solutions that will help reduce food insecurity, achieve optimal growth and development, and prevent childhood obesity and other chronic diseases through increased access to nutrition education, nutritious foods like milk and dairy foods, and safe and active environments for all.

The world is rapidly changing, and we need realistic solutions to sustainably and fairly support healthier people and a healthier planet. We believe in creating healthy communities by promoting nutrition equity for optimal growth, health and well-being is part of this larger solution to global health, and we know we cannot do it alone. We must work together, across disciplines, to leverage each other’s knowledge, experience, resources and creative thinking.

To that end, we invite leaders in the dairy community in California and beyond to join us as we continue to gain momentum behind the Let’s Eat Healthy movement and build on the findings from the Well-Nourished, Brighter Futures initiative. By working together, we can create a future where all children have access to healthy foods like dairy foods, along with other supports to reach their full potential. Learn more at HealthyEating.org/Join.

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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