Conflict and Compromise in Public Health Policy: Analysis of Changes Made to Five Competitive Food Legislative Proposals Prior to Adoption

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Competitive foods in schools have historically been scrutinized for their ubiquity and poor nutritional quality, leading many states to enact legislation limiting the availability and accessibility of these items. Evaluations of these policy approaches show their promise in improving the healthfulness of school food environments, considered an important strategy for reducing childhood obesity. Yet little is known about the decision-making processes by which such legislation is formed and adopted. Using a comparative case study design, this study describes and analyzes the policy formation processes surrounding five state-level competitive food bills introduced in 2009-2010. Data for each case were drawn from multiple key informant interviews and document reviews. Case studies were conducted, analyzed, and written independently using a standard protocol and were subsequently compared for recurring and unique themes. Abbreviated case studies and summary tables are provided. Results indicate that bill cost is a major barrier to achieving strong, health-promoting policy change. Additionally, findings reveal that supporters of stronger competitive food policies often concede to changes that weaken a bill in order to neutralize opposition and achieve stakeholder buy-in. These challenges suggest that continued research on the development, implementation, and evaluation of public health policies can contribute to the advancement of new strategies for effective health promotion.



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