Via Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
By Michelle Maley, J.D. ’16 and Olivia Smith, J.D. ’17
On November 15, we traveled as representatives of the Harvard Health and Food Law and Policy Clinics to Jackson, Mississippi for the 9th Annual Southern Obesity Summit. The Summit is the largest regional event that focuses on obesity prevention in the United States. It draws participants from 16 Southern States as well as advocates from around the country. Attendees included policymakers, community-based organizations, health care providers, and members of other public health organizations.
The three-day Summit kicked off at the Mississippi Museum of Art with a delicious meal featuring local Mississippi foods prepared by the Museum’s Executive Chef Nick Wallace. The next two days consisted of panels and work groups, which were interspersed with dance parties and other fun activities to get everyone moving. The panels and work groups covered topics such as school foods and nutrition, food access, obesity research, and physical activity. Ona Balkus, a senior clinical fellow with the Food Law and Policy Clinic, presented about procurement of local foods, describing its importance and its potential for promoting sustainable, healthy food systems. Katie Garfield, a clinical fellow with the Health Law and Policy Clinic, also presented about the Clinic’s exciting work with food banks and food pantries as supporters of health promotion in their communities.
For us first-time students in the Food Law and Policy Clinic, the Summit gave us an exciting opportunity to hear from many influential stakeholders whose innovative initiatives are already addressing the obesity crisis. We were able to learn about programs focused on food-related health outcomes in schools, health care facilities, and the community as a whole. Many of these efforts have informed and are often at the forefront of our clinic research, which strives to provide guidance for communities that want to improve the quality of their food systems. Specifically, we are working this semester to update the FLPC’s Good Laws, Good Food local food policy toolkit, which provides a menu of policy options to communities working to improve their food systems. The Summit provided a plethora of ideas and innovations to incorporate into the updated toolkit to share with other communities around the country. We enjoyed being able to connect with individuals who serve as champions in their respective fields, as it is these individuals that we hope to reach through our work and learn from in the process.