Publications and Research

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

October 2015

Abstract

Introduction Improvements in diet can prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. Although policy changes provide a foundation for improvement at the population level, evidence for the effectiveness of such changes is slim. This study summarizes the literature on recent efforts in the United States to change food-related policies to prevent obesity and diabetes among adults. Methods We conducted a systematic review of evidence of the impact of food policies. Websites of government, academic, and nonprofit organizations were scanned to generate a typology of food-related policies, which we classified into 18 categories. A key-word search and a search of policy reports identified empirical evaluation studies of these categories. Analyses were limited to strategies with 10 or more reports. Of 422 articles identified, 94 met these criteria. Using publication date, study design, study quality, and dietary outcomes assessed, we evaluated the strength of evidence for each strategy in 3 assessment categories: time period, quality, and study design. Results Five strategies yielded 10 or more reports. Only 2 of the 5 strategies, menu labeling and taxes on unhealthy foods, had 50% or more studies with positive findings in at least 2 of 3 assessment categories. Most studies used methods that were rated medium quality. Although the number of published studies increased over 11 years, study quality did not show any clear trend nor did it vary by strategy. Conclusion Researchers and policy makers can improve the quality and rigor of policy evaluations to synthesize existing evidence and develop better methods for gleaning policy guidance from the ample but imperfect data available.

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