Food system policy, public health, and human rights in the United States

Annu Rev Public Health. 2015 Mar 18;36:151-73. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122621.


The US food system functions within a complex nexus of social, political, economic, cultural, and ecological factors. Among them are many dynamic pressures such as population growth, urbanization, socioeconomic inequities, climate disruption, and the increasing demand for resource-intensive foods that place immense strains on public health and the environment. This review focuses on the role that policy plays in defining the food system, particularly with regard to agriculture. It further examines the challenges of making the food supply safe, nutritious, and sustainable, while respecting the rights of all people to have access to adequate food and to attain the highest standard of health. We conclude that the present US food system is largely unhealthy, inequitable, environmentally damaging, and insufficiently resilient to endure the impacts of climate change, resource depletion, and population increases, and is therefore unsustainable. Thus, it is imperative that the US embraces policy reforms to transform the food system into one that supports public health and reflects the principles of human rights and agroecology for the benefit of current and future generations.

Keywords: agricultural policy; agroecology; diet-related disease; food policy; right to food; right to health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Food Contamination
  • Food Supply* / ethics
  • Food Supply* / methods
  • Food Supply* / standards
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Public Health*
  • United States