Advocates working in Rhode Island to secure passage of legislation to update nutrition standards to ensure that the state meets — and continues to exceed — new federal guidelines for snacks and beverages sold in schools, as well as a requirement that only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property, quickly discovered that partnerships are the key in getting the legislation passed.
Rhode Island has long been at the forefront of school nutrition. Despite having strong state standards and quickly adopting new federal guidelines, one loophole remained — the advertising and marketing of unhealthy junk foods and beverages. “We came to the realization that if we are working to improve health opportunities for those communities being targeted by the junk food marketing interests, it was important to get those communities engaged in the effort,” says Megan Tucker, director of government relations for the American Heart Association in Rhode Island.
The result was the forging of working relationships between Rhode Island health advocates and the NAACP Providence Branch, Oasis international, Progreso Latino and the Liberian
Community Association. Each of these organizations were leaders in their respective communities and several had strong youth leadership programs. That made engaging the youth in advocacy efforts related to nutrition and healthy food access much easier and more effective.
But the partnership worked both ways. “We learned a great deal from the community groups that will continue to inform our work,” says Tucker.
The result of the collaboration and sharing of knowledge was the passage of legislation that requires all Rhode Island elementary, middle and high schools that sell or distribute competitive foods and beverages on the school campus during the school day to offer only healthy foods and beverages as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Rhode Island Department of Education and the local school district. That legislation is expected to be signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo.
A second measure requiring that only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property passed the Rhode Island Senate but stalled in the — House of Representatives, which Tucker views as a temporary setback. She predicts that the growing coalition will continue to work together on other key health issues as well.
“I think the long-term outcome is a continued partnership on the issues that are important for the health of their communities, such as improved physical education, opportunities for physical activity and access to healthy foods,” she says.