Howard is simply making healthy options the default [Letter]

July 08, 2014

Howard County's history of raising public health standards in our community is reflected in our consistent ranking among the most healthy counties in the nation. Recently, US News ranked us the 13th healthiest place for children. Quite a distinction!

But we can do even better, and one of the ways we can address our most persistent public health threats is with forward-thinking policies that make healthy choices the easy and default choices in our community — policies like the nutritional standards the Howard County government has implemented on food and drinks sold on public property or at county-sponsored events ("Howard vendors question rules on festival fare," July 2).

Critics of these standards argue that they restrict choice and that we should allow exceptions for "special occasions." However, as anyone who has ever tried to find healthy choices at events like the 4th of July celebration knows, the true restriction in choice is for healthy options, which are usually extremely limited.

It's not that these options don't exist — the Better Beverage Finder (betterbevfinder.org) includes hundreds of healthy options — it's just that many of these options are not readily available outside of grocery stores. With the new county standards, however, the tables are turned, and those interested in purchasing healthy options at parks or county sponsored events have many options, while those looking to consume unhealthy options must buy them elsewhere and carry them in, a minor imposition the health-conscious have dealt with for years.

Howard County has worked together to create a culture of health in our community, one where healthy choices are easy and widely available. These standards are part of an effective and reasonable approach to help improve the health of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to county parks and other facilities, as well as the thousands of government employees.

Given our county's high rates of adult and childhood obesity and diabetes, we must keep pressing forward in this effort — our future and our children's futures depend on it.

Nikki Highsmith Vernick, Columbia

The writer is president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation.

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