Course: Food and Nutrition Policy

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Food and Nutrition Policy



Rolf Klemm and Keith West

Offered By:

International Health

Course Number:



The purpose of this course is to familiarize and engage the student in the steps and dynamics of policy making processes that address nutrition problems and issues. An underlying tenant is that, where ever nutrition problems exist, policy and program options may be enacted to address the problem directly (e.g. food subsidies to the poor) and/or indirectly (e.g. income generation or job creation).

For the purpose of this course nutrition and food policy is viewed as a specific set of decisions with related actions, established by a government and often supported by special legislation, which address a nutrition or food problem or set of problems. We realize that the lack of an explicit government policy may represent an implicit "hands off" policy; however, in this course we want to focus on explicit government policies.

Effective policies include actions that enable policy goals to be achieved, and therefore should include a means of translating policy decisions into effective programs. Policies that have not been realized through program implementation represent failures and should stimulate interest in understanding why the policies have remained barren. Good programs are the best measure of good policies, and we therefore include programs in our broad definition of policy.

Once a problem is defined with respect to "what, who, when, where and why," we then ask whether the problem requires or is amenable to a policy solution. If so, what are the best options? Who are the stakeholders? Who will support or resist the policy? Who pays for its implementation? What impact is expected? How is it evaluated?

Traditionally, nutritional policies have been realized through programs that deliver, enable access, or encourage consumption of food or supplements; obviously, problems associated with over-nutrition will require a different approach. Nutrition policies should be evidence-based and purposeful, aiming to meet nutritional needs; the same is not necessarily true of food policies, although they frequently will have nutritional effects. As background we discuss the evidence base of policies, but assuming the evidence base is sound, more important are:

  • the contexts (nutritional, political, economic, cultural, etc.) in which policies are developed,
  • the processes and interaction of stakeholders which lead to policy decisions,
  • the translation of policies into feasible programs,
  • the evaluation of nutritional and other impacts (intended and unintended, positive and negative, measurable or not), and
  • an assessment of the forces which hinder or help the implementation of the policy.
We evaluate policies on the extent to which they meet these criteria. We recognize that implemented policies rarely play out so systematically, but we believe that these criteria are useful in understanding existing policies and designing new ones.