Access to healthy food and nutrition is one of the basic human needs and largely defines the overall health of individuals. As stated by Ascend at the Aspen Institute (2019) in its recent policy brief, many families across the country currently have limited opportunities to maintain adequate nutrition and, as a result, they face an increased risk of long-term health complications, including obesity. Ascend at the Aspen Institute (2019) also indicated that the problem has an especially serious impact on infants and children whose development substantially depends on the environment where they live and the quality of food that they eat. Considering this, it is suggested for policymakers to focus on providing support for breastfeeding mothers and improving access to healthy food options among low-income families, women, and young children. These policy objectives may be achieved by using a wide variety of methods: modification of community environments, social support programs, public and community education, partnerships with private organizations, and many more. As advocates, nurses can significantly contribute to the implementation of the health policy aimed at the improvement of access to adequate nutrition, and the present paper will discuss how.
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The summarized policy brief comprises many valid points that are consistent with recent research findings. While primarily focusing on the health of infants and young children, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (2019) noted that malnutrition adversely affects the development of the brain and immune system. This statement is supported by evidence provided by Cusick and Georgieff (2016), showing that an adequate supply of nutrients at early developmental stages is important for sound brain growth, whereas nutritional deficiencies experienced in sensitive developmental periods throughout infancy can result in serious behavioral and psychological pathologies, including schizophrenia.
In addition, Maggini, Pierre, and Calder (2018) demonstrated the links between optimal immune function across the lifespan and wholesome nutrition and indicated that people of different ages may need to adapt their diets to changes in their immune systems. Noteworthily, in line with claims made by Ascend at the Aspen Institute (2019) in its policy brief, Maggini, Pierre, and Calder (2018) stated that infants’ immune health significantly depends on a regular supply of maternal milk that contains a plethora of compounds with immunological properties. It means that while access to healthy food is important across all demographic populations, policies must specifically target breastfeeding mothers as their nutrition and breastfeeding behaviors take a major part in promoting long-term child health. Thus, the advocacy plan that will be developed in one of the following sections in this paper will be based on the stance supporting the introduced policy brief.
Effects on Stakeholders
The implementation of the policy dedicated to the improvement of access to food may have multiple favorable effects on different stakeholder groups, including community residents, low-income families, local business owners, and others. For instance, farmers’ participation in federally and state-sponsored programs aimed to enhance food quality can help them to stimulate sales, attract new customers and, increase profits. As for the improvement of health through better access to high-quality foods, it can positively affect both consumer and provider stakeholders. Since adequate nutrition is responsible for sound child development, it may prevent the development of many chronic diseases and improve individuals’ quality of life across the lifespan (Elenberg & Shaoul, 2014). The prevention of illness will inevitably translate into the reduction of healthcare costs at multiple levels: family, hospital, and healthcare as a whole.
As a practitioner, an advanced practice nurse (APN) can implement various advocacy strategies to foster policy promotion and implementation and may impact the situation at both individual and community levels. According to Abood (2007), APNs have expert power related to having extensive knowledge and well-developed skills in their field and legitimate power associated with their high professional status. Both of these sources of power make their words weighty and can help them to influence others. While advocating for better access to nutrition and playing the mediator and promoter roles, APNs should actively employ these sources of power to lead the desired changes.
The case advocacy approach can be easily applied by an APN as a practitioner. This strategy focuses “on informing and supporting clients, enabling them to define and act in terms of their own best interests” (Pope, Snyder, & Mood, 1995, p. 254). Thus, to promote breastfeeding as per the recommendations by Ascend at the Aspen Institute (2019), a nurse should educate patients and families about the benefits of breastfeeding and available evidence-based dietary and lifestyle modifications that they may implement independently. The same approach can be used to advocate for the promotion of breastfeeding and healthy nutrition at the hospital level. An APN may compile educational materials based on high-quality research findings and disseminate them across the organization to raise the awareness of the problem among colleagues and inspire them for action.
Not many improvements may be attained through the abovementioned activities in case the community infrastructure needed to provide adequate nutrition for residents is lacking. Thus, a nurse must conduct a comprehensive community analysis and research with the purpose to identify any environmental barriers to the facilitation of a healthy food supply in the area. Such environmental evaluation cannot be effectively completed by a single person and a contribution from multiple experts may be required. Therefore, networking and community collaboration during social planning and policy implementation are pivotal. It means that as part of their advocacy program, APNs will need to get in touch with local/state organizations, different professionals, and volunteers to increase public awareness and mobilize resources to bring favorable changes regarding community and individual access to adequate nutrition.
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Abood, S. (2007). Influencing health care in the legislative arena. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 12(1). Web.
Ascend at the Aspen Institute. (2019). Healthy food and nutrition. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Web.
Cusick, S. E., & Georgieff, M. K. (2016). The role of nutrition in brain development: The golden opportunity of the “first 1000 days”. The Journal of Pediatrics, 175, 16-21.
Elenberg, Y., & Shaoul, R. (2014). The role of infant nutrition in the prevention of future disease. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2(73), 1-5.
Pope, A. M., Snyder, M. A., & Mood, L. H. (1995). Nursing health, & the environment: Strengthening the relationship to improve the public’s health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Maggini, S., Pierre, A., & Calder, P. C. (2018). Immune function and micronutrient requirements change over the life course. Nutrients, 10(10), 1531.