Two men and woman sitting in subway train side by side, reading newspaper

News: General

Posted on Sep 1, 2016

Spotlight: Increasing Access to Healthy Food -- New Orleans, Louisiana

The city of New Orleans, Louisiana, population 378,715, earned a Silver medal in Goal IV: Model Food Service of Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC), a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. In 2012, Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed an executive order outlining a standard for healthier foods and beverages in the vending and food service options at City Hall and other city-owned parks and facilities. In February of 2016, that vision became a reality.

Goal IV: Model Food Service

To improve access to healthy, affordable foods for residents, the City of New Orleans committed to implementing healthy and sustainable food service guidelines that are aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in all municipally- or county-owned or operated venues that offer or sell food/beverages.

Advancing a Culture of Health

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina the City of New Orleans began rebuilding and rebranding its health department to prioritize partnerships, prevention and public health to better address the root causes of poor health outcomes. Fit NOLA—a health department-led, multifaceted partnership with the ultimate goal of making New Orleans one of the ten fittest U.S. cities by 2018—is an integral component of the city’s efforts. Composed initially of six  multi-sector groups, Fit NOLA has grown into a network of over 200  partners, including non-profit organizations, schools, direct-service providers, businesses and community members working to promote physical activity and healthy eating. As a result, in 2012, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recognized the City of New Orleans as one of its inaugural Culture of Health Prize Winners.

Increasing Access to Healthy Food

In December of 2012, Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed an Executive Order that outlined the development and implementation of a standard for healthier foods and beverages in the vending and food service options at city-owned locations. Fit NOLA played a key role in convening stakeholders such as the Tulane Prevention Research Center, the Louisiana Public Health Institute, the American Heart Association and Market Umbrella to help devise and implement these standards.

“If we are going to reach our goal of becoming a healthier city by the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018, we must create policies that will aid in effectively promoting healthy choices,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We are working toward creating a city where the healthy choice is the easy choice. This is another step in the right direction.”

Issued on February 19, 2016, the subsequent policy memorandum from the City of New Orleans stated:

  • At least 50 percent of all snack foods offered must meet criteria that restrict total calories and sodium per package, in addition to the percentage of calories from sugar/fat (with exceptions for fruit and nuts).
  • At least 50 percent of beverage options must be water without caloric sweeteners, reduced-fat milk, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, or juice combined with water.

Next Steps

While the policy change was a positive first step, implementation challenges still remain. For example, the policy only applies to city-owned venues, meaning that a vending machine or snack bar that is owned by the state of Louisiana is not required to comply. The city continues to take steps towards mitigating those challenges:

  • In partnership with the American Heart Association, the City of New Orleans received a Voices for Healthy Kids grant to help with implementation of the policy.
  • The city’s health department regularly hosts workshops with city employees and vendors, large-scale employee wellness events and taste tests in City Hall to allow employees to vote on what items they want to see available in vending machines.
  • The NOLA Food Policy Advisory Committee (FPAC) has been created and is currently in the process of developing a strategic plan to help get stakeholders “on the same page” regarding the policy change.
  • There are plans to expand the innovative Fit NOLA smartphone app to help broadcast what food service options are available in each city location, making it easier for people to make healthier choices.

Lessons Learned: Patience and Partnerships

New Orleans’ quest to become one of the fittest cities by 2018 has been embodied by the collective impact model, a structured approach focused on creating cohesive city partnerships across all sectors to make lasting change by employing a common agenda, aligning their efforts, and using common measures of success. Fit NOLA staff attributes the continued success of the program to these innovative partnerships. Additionally, New Orleans’ approach is one of persistence and patience; the new vending policy was issued 4 years after the initial executive order, and has yet to be fully implemented. But building a Culture of Health doesn’t happen overnight and the work continues.