Upstream Public Health, a public policy non-profit based in Portland, Oregon, conducted a novel health impact assessment (HIA) of proposed legislation in Oregon. Oregon House Bill (HB) 2800 would provide state funds to purchase locally-grown foods for schools, set up school teaching gardens, and conduct nutrition education. The lessons learned from this project could be applied to other food and agricultural policies being considered by states across the nation. The goal of the HIA was to inform state lawmakers and examine how the proposed law could impact child nutrition in public schools and the economic health of rural communities. The analysis examined how new purchases of local foods, especially fruits and vegetables, would impact a variety of diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity. In addition, the HIA considered how increased local food purchasing could best benefit the health and well-being of economically-depressed rural communities.
The HIA found that bill would likely increase health and life expectancy by stimulating economic growth and creating jobs. The HIA also found that the bill would likely improve child diet and nutrition by increasing meal program participation and improving the nutrition of school meals.
The HIA made several recommendations to maximize the positive impacts of the bill, including amending HB 2800 to specify that schools can only receive reimbursement for foods produced or processed in Oregon; current food policy allows food produced in other states to qualify. The HIA also recommended focusing the food, agriculture, and garden education grants in school districts that serve vulnerable populations.
The HIA showed that a Farm to School and School Gardens bill in Oregon would improve health by reducing hunger and creating jobs in the hard-hit farm industry and rural communities. The HIA offered recommendations for maximizing the benefits, including jobs created. The suggested language was adopted, and the HIA was instrumental in generating broad support for a pilot project.