Finding a healthier snack or meal should get a lot easier for children in Los Angeles since the City passed its Child Nutrition Policy in 2005 requiring recreation centers and other youth-serving city departments and programs to offer more nutritious meals and snacks. With a unanimous vote in favor of the Child Nutrition Policy, LA City Council demonstrated its intention to make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible while curtailing youth access to sugary sodas and salty, high-fat snacks.

Prevention Institute had a conversation with a member of the City of L.A. Child Health and Nutrition Taskforce, the group responsible for creating the policy and bringing it before city council, and this is what we learned:

What groups were critical in the passage of this policy?
In order to pass this policy, we had to bring together many different stakeholders. Key players included elected officials: the Mayor and Councilwoman Jan Perry, city departments serving youth including the Department of Recreation and Park, Community Development Department, and nutrition experts and advocates including California Food Policy Advocates, Community Health Councils and many others. The Commission on Children Youth and their Families helped co-facilitate the process with the Department of Recreation and Parks.

What challenges did you encounter during the policy creation process?
Identifying other policies to use as models. There was a Berkeley nutrition policy but not many others. We weren't sure how to move forward with a policy that would work in city departments. Some departments were like: "Don't mess with our vending machines, that's our revenue." Others didn't see why the city should play a role in health and nutrition-they think it's the county's job. So, we had to make the case (for providing healthier food) and show them that the foods we provide for kids can impact their health.

How did you overcome those challenges?

Learning to compromise was critical. We were advised to simplify and tone down the policy so it would pass. When it came to developing criteria for healthy vending, some were concerned about revenue loss. We started with just 25% healthy options and monitored the cash flow. Now, we're at 35% healthy options. We're hoping to get to 100%. Our strategy was to get it in and plan for amendments. It's been expanding steadily. There was recently a transfat ban amended to the policy.

How have you worked with the City staff to support implementation?

We've trained 471 city staff from Parks and Recreation, the Housing Authority, Community Development Department, and city libraries about the new policy. We've established partnerships with nutrition and physical education agencies to provide materials and training at no cost. City staff who attended initial policy implementation trainings expressed a need for more direct, workplan-style steps to assist them with putting the policy into practice. We've developed an easy-to-use toolkit that will translate the Child Nutrition Policy into clear actions for city staff. It includes measurement tools for tracking progress and documenting challenges. The toolkit carefully links implementation activities with support resources. Once we finalize the toolkit, we'll disseminate it broadly. We've also developed a resource book with a list of ‘eligible' healthy food options.

How's implementation going?
We are starting to see menus include healthier options. Some parks are connecting with farmers markets to make fresh produce available, like in Hollywood. We have zeroed in on 8 recreation centers in South LA to pilot fuller implementation including gardening programs, menu changes, parent advocacy and training, and work with physicians to prescribe participation in park programs offering healthier foods. At those sites, South LA's Healthy Eating Active Community Collaborative and park directors have been critical to getting our efforts going. Also, a recent policy requires that food sold and served at all recreation and park facilities must be trans fat free and Recreation and Parks staff are implementing this policy.

Policy implementation hasn't happened over night. We are working hard to encourage our city departments to realize the full potential of this policy. By accessing state and federal funds for USDA qualified meal reimbursements, collaborating with local farmers' markets and working with local nutrition educators and California 5-A-Day to provide nutrition information to staff and families, city facilities can become a hub for healthy food and better serve youth whether they are visiting the library or participating in a park program.

From: ENACT Local Policy Database