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White House Outlines Strategy for Ending Hunger by 2030

September 27, 2022 by Dan McCue
White House Outlines Strategy for Ending Hunger by 2030
President Joe Biden during a celebration of the Inflation Reduction Act on the South Lawn of the White House. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — In the 50 years since the last Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health was convened at the White House, the United States has struggled to end chronic food insecurity in some communities, while seeing a marked increase in diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer.

This week, as President Joe Biden once again brings stakeholders and public officials together to discuss what the administration is calling a nutrition-related health crisis, he’ll lay out his plan to rein in high obesity rates and end hunger by 2030.

In advance of the meeting, the White House on Tuesday released the session’s core document: The Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which spells out the particulars.

“We’ve laid out a bold goal,” said a senior administration official in a conference call with reporters.

“We’re going to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030, all while reducing disparities, particularly in historically underserved communities,” the official said.

The conference, this and other officials on the call said, is seen by the White House as a way to unify Americans around this goal.

But it won’t be easy. With control of Congress likely to be decided by razor thin margins in just five week’s time, the administration’s future ability to marshal ambitious legislation through the House and Senate is very much open to question.

At the same time, large numbers of Americans are currently focused more on inflation and historically high food prices than they are on the nutritional value of what they’re buying.

Despite these challenges, officials said, a reckoning over the issues tackled at Wednesday’s conference has been a long time coming. 

Health officials estimate that as many as 73% of Americans age 15 and older are overweight or obese, as defined by body-mass-index measurements, and that one in 10 U.S. households experience some level of food insecurity.

It has also escaped no one’s notice that the last conference taking a deep and committed look at these problems was held during the Nixon administration.

This week’s gathering is coming on the heels of several months of meetings with members of Congress, academics, advocates, philanthropic groups, as well as health insurance and food companies. Those extended conversations are at the heart of the new national strategy.

“We’ve laid out a bold goal,” the senior administration official said. “In the years following the first conference, Congress created transformational programs like WIC that have enjoyed bipartisan support for generations and help millions of Americans live healthier lives.

“The strategy provides a roadmap for actions that the federal government will take administratively, a number of proposals that will require congressional action, and a call to action on how non-governmental entities can bring about the changes necessary to meet our goals. 

“We know that hunger and diet related diseases are largely preventable, and that we have the tools to solve them as a government and a country, if we prioritize them,” the official added. “We are committed to taking some really bold actions.”

To advance its goals, the administration is relying on a strategy anchored by five pillars.

These include:

  1. Improving food access and affordability, including by advancing economic security; increasing access to free and nourishing school meals; providing Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer benefits to more children; and expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility to more underserved populations.
  2. Integrating nutrition and health, including by working with Congress to pilot coverage of medically tailored meals in Medicare; testing Medicaid coverage of nutrition education and other nutrition supports using Medicaid section 1115 demonstration projects; and expanding Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries’ access to nutrition and obesity counseling.
  3. Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices, including by proposing to develop a front-of-package labeling scheme for food packages; proposing to update the nutrition criteria for the “healthy” claim on food packages; expanding incentives for fruits and vegetables in SNAP; facilitating sodium reduction in the food supply by issuing longer-term, voluntary sodium targets for industry; and assessing additional steps to reduce added sugar consumption, including potential voluntary targets.
  4. Supporting physical activity for all, including by expanding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program to all states and territories; investing in efforts to connect people to parks and other outdoor spaces; and funding regular updates to and promotion of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans; and
  5. Enhancing nutrition and food security research, including by bolstering funding to improve metrics, data collection, and research to inform nutrition and food security policy, particularly on issues of equity and access; and implementing a vision for advancing nutrition science.

Asked about support for this agenda in the next Congress, the administration official said Biden is committed to “pushing” lawmakers “to take a number of steps that will improve the overall economic well being of the American people, such as extending the expanded child tax credit and raising the minimum wage — among many other programs — because families who are economically secure are not forced into impossible decisions about whether to pay their bills or buy food.”

The official went on to say the president wants Congress to increase access to key nutrition programs and expand the number of children who can receive free school meals, putting the number of the latter at 9 million additional kids by 2032.

Among those applauding the release of the administration’s strategy on Tuesday was Vince Hall, chief government relations officers for Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.

“By expanding access to these programs, centering equity and focusing on ways to reduce disparities and poverty, we can help ensure everyone has access to the food and resources they say they need to thrive, regardless of their race, background or ZIP code,” Hall said.

“As this national strategy is discussed during tomorrow’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and beyond, policymakers must remember that to end hunger, we need to listen to the people experiencing it. Insights from people facing hunger can help Congress and the administration create anti-hunger policies that more effectively meet people where they are and meet their needs,” he added.

In addition to the president, those slated to speak at the conference included, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff; Ambassador Susan Rice, White House Domestic Policy advisor; Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra; and Chef José Andrés.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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