Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest

In September, the White House will convene a once-in-two-generations opportunity: a White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. This Conference is an opportunity to address hunger, food system inequities, chronic disease, and health all together. It is a chance to modernize and enhance our food system; it is a chance to build our food environment into one that ensures access to a healthy diet for all residents of the United States. The Conference can be a catapult to an improved food system infrastructure that is equitable, just, resilient, and sustainable. 

The first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health was held over 50 years ago, in 1969. That Conference was a critical turning point for US food policy. It is widely credited with spurring the movement toward the Nutrition Facts panel and leading to the creation and expansion of critical nutrition and anti-hunger safety net programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs (school meals).

This opportunity to fundamentally reshape our food system for the better comes as we today face additional challenges to 50 years ago when the principal challenge was hunger: in addition to hunger, we face an epidemic of diet-related disease, COVID-19-related morbidity partly associated with diet, a food environment that makes the healthy choice the harder choice, and much more. Hunger, nutrition insecurity, and diet-related chronic diseases disproportionately affect people of color as well as low-income, rural, and other underserved populations. And preventable diet-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are leading causes of death and disability. We hope this Conference will accelerate progress to ending hunger and reducing the impact and burden of preventable diet-related disease. 

CSPI has several recommendations for the conference to reach its goals. The Conference should be planned and executed with transparency and equity as its cornerstones. Conference attendees should together define metrics to evaluate nutrition security and desired health outcomes, enabling the measurement of progress towards increasing healthy eating and reducing diet-related disease. A federal entity should be created to coordinate a strategy to strengthen the food system and collaborate across agencies. Further, we should deeply strengthen our food supply by making a healthier diet, with less sodium and added sugars and more whole grains, more accessible in federal facilities, to kids eating school meals, and at restaurants.

As a country, we must do more to ensure no one goes hungry and to reduce diet-related disease. We can achieve this by creating a food system that provides equitable access to healthy food, that is transparent, and that ensures food is safe. To learn more about CSPI’s priorities for the conference, check out our letter to President Biden and Ambassador Rice.