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Study: Local Food Can Improve Oregon’s Health, Create Jobs

Complex carbohydrates (Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

(Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

A new study suggests that proposed legislation in Oregon that offers incentives to deliver fresh local food to schools would help improve the health of the state’s residents and create hundreds of new farm-industry jobs. The study was funded by a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The bill proposes creation of an Oregon Farm-to-School and School Garden Program that would reimburse schools the equivalent of 15 cents per lunch and 7 cents per breakfast for purchasing Oregon food products. The bill would also offer competitive grants to schools for setting up teaching gardens and providing nutrition education that could help kids learn about local food production and increase their preference for fruits and vegetables.

The study, conducted by Upstream Public Health, a Portland-based advocate for the bill, consisted of a review of research literature, secondary analysis of databases, and an economic analysis of potential employment outcomes. The research team also conducted interviews with stakeholders and held two public forums.

The findings indicate that the bill has the potential to increase students’ satisfaction with school meal offerings, which other research shows can increase student participation in the federal school meals program. The study notes that in 2009, about 14 percent of households in the state, almost 500,000 people, had to cut back on food or even regularly skip meals because of economic hardships. The legislation could mean more children in these families would get nutritious meals at school.

The bill could also have small to moderate impacts on childhood obesity by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. The bill could also increase physical activity from more children participating in school-based gardens. One in four Oregon adolescents is overweight or obese, according to the report.

The economic analysis in the study suggests that the bill could create at least 800 new agricultural jobs over the next five to 10 years in both urban and rural areas of the state. The latest recession, according to the study, has hurt Oregon’s farms, with two-thirds of farms reporting net losses. In December 2010, the state also had a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, well above the national rate of 9.0 percent.

The study is an example of a health impact assessment that explores the health impacts of a proposed project, plan or policy in areas that might not otherwise take full account of the health implications. These studies cover factors such as education, land use, agriculture, or energy, and then make recommendations to maximize the benefits and minimize any potential risks.

Read more: Heart Disease Treatment Cost Expected to Triple by 2030

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