On April 7, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced a major new service-wide Healthy Foods Strategy, to provide healthy food options to all national park visitors.
Jarvis made the announcement as part of the Healthy Parks Healthy People US conference, a two-day forum in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area co-hosted by NPS, the Institute at the Golden Gate and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Attended by more than 100 leaders in health care, the environment, nonprofits, government and business, participants discussed how the NPS can most effectively help drive health and wellness initiatives in America’s local, state, and national parks, and how parks can promote healthy lifestyle changes.
“The food we eat plays a critical role in our health, and providing healthy food choices is one way the NPS is working to promote healthy lifestyles,” Jarvis said. “The Healthy Foods Strategy will help ensure that our 281 million annual visitors have access to healthy, sustainable, and high-quality food at reasonable prices, while reducing our overall impact on the environment.
“This initiative furthers one of our goals of Healthy Parks Healthy People US, to educate visitors on food and potentially influence the choices they make after they leave the parks,” Jarvis added.
The first step in the NPS Healthy Foods Strategy is a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control Epidemiological Service to conduct a baseline survey of the nutritional value of the food served in America’s national parks. In looking at the availability and cost of healthy foods in various regions of the country, NPS aims to make informed decisions regarding healthy foods in its concession operations and build healthy food requirements into concession contract requirements.
The NPS has already started evaluating the health and sustainability of the food served in parks. The new healthy and sustainable food program piloted at Muir Woods in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the first examples of how park concessions can effectively support healthy food choices. Food for the Parks, a new report featuring case studies from the National Park System, has been developed by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy’s Institute at the Golden Gate and is available for download at www.instituteatgoldengate.org/foodfortheparks.
Modeled on the international Healthy Parks Healthy People movement that started in Australia, Healthy Parks Healthy People US complements President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, a multi-agency effort that has sparked a national conversation on how to conserve open spaces and reconnect Americans to nature. In addition to its Healthy Foods Strategy, the NPS has expanded First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program to include Let’s Move Outside Junior Ranger, and is also forging links with other relevant parks-inspired health programs, including Children & Nature, Park Prescriptions, Food for the Parks, No Child Left Inside, and others.
“America’s Great Outdoors promotes greater access to nature as a catalyst to better human and community health,” Jarvis said. Across the country,parks of all sizes are engaging in dialogues and developing programs with the healthcare community, and private sector partners including Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealth Group and Sutter Health, have stepped forward in support of NPS goals.