Washington State
Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan

Why an Environmental and Policy Approach?

The Plan’s Focus

The plan is based on scientific evidence about obesity prevention. It emphasizes environmental and policy approaches to build a foundation for stemming the rapid increase in rates of overweight and obesity. All obesity prevention and treatment initiatives will be more successful when Washington residents live in environments that make it easier to eat well and be active.

Why an Environmental and Policy Approach?

On an individual level, obesity can be prevented if people simply move more and eat
less.(1) Unfortunately, social, cultural and environmental constraints make it difficult for most individuals to follow this advice, as evidenced by the fact that over half of Washington adults are either overweight or obese.(2) Behavior choices and subsequent health outcomes are profoundly affected by cultural influences as well as by the food and activity opportunities available at the individual and community levels.(3) The Institute of Medicine reminds us that, “Health and well being are affected by a dynamic interaction between biology, behavior, and the environment, an interaction that unfolds over the life course of individuals, families, and communities.”(4) For this reason, our state plan emphasizes development of policies to influence physical activity and nutrition environments in schools, workplaces, communities, and healthcare settings. Policies are formal or informal guidelines for decision-making aimed at achieving a desired outcome.

See Appendix A for an explanation of models and theories for the plan’s approach.


Senior couple walking on path


Criteria for the Plan’s Priority Recommendations

Recommendations and strategies in the plan should be:

  • Related to obesity and chronic disease prevention.
  • Population-based.
  • Evidence-based, theoretically sound, or recommended by nationally recognized authorities or experts.
  • Have the potential to affect a large portion of the population.
  • Based on measurable objectives.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the foundation for the nutrition recommendations in this plan.(5) The United States Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services developed the guidelines as a resource to support nutritious diets, daily physical activity, and maintenance of a healthy weight to promote good health and protect against disease. Guidelines and recommendations from national physical activity organizations were used to support the physical activity objectives.(6,7)

A more detailed explanation of the criteria for updating the plan is presented in Appendix B.