Last year, the Biden-Harris Administration convened the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health—a historic convening to address food insecurity, diet-related diseases, physical activity, and related health disparities. The centerpiece of the conference was the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, in which the Administration committed to 196 strategies to achieve its overarching goals of ending hunger and reducing diet-related disease by 2030. Last week, on the anniversary of the conference, CSPI published a report on the status of a subset of 106 commitments related to diet quality, food access, and the food environment. The Administration could carry out 82 of those 106 commitments without an act of Congress, and, of these 82, has completed 21 (26%), made progress on 42 (51%), and made no documented progress on 19 (23%).
It is laudable that the Biden-Harris Administration has completed or made progress on more than three quarters of the commitments that are within the control of the executive branch. However, there has been no documented progress toward one of the most potentially impactful commitments: the commitment to “expand access to healthier food environments in federal facilities” by updating and implementing the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities (FSG) across the government.
Developed by an interagency working group led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FSG are evidence-based, currently voluntary best practices to operationalize the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and address environmental and social impacts in federal food service operations. Since their inception in 2011, voluntary implementation of the FSG in federal facilities has been slow and uneven, though several agencies have made progress on related efforts. Since the White House Conference, federal officials have engaged in ongoing internal discussions about expanding implementation of the FSG, but they have shared no concrete progress publicly.
The potential benefits of government-wide implementation are multifold:
Improve diet quality and health for consumers:
- One of the five pillars of the National Strategy is to “empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices.” Millions of people rely on federal facility food service operations—including federal employees, veterans receiving care in Veterans Affairs hospitals, members of the armed services, and people incarcerated in federal prisons—for meals on a weekly or daily basis. Making the healthy choice the easy choice for these populations could improve the quality of their diets, which would in turn reduce their risk of diet-related disease like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and create healthcare costs savings for the government.
Increase demand for healthy and ethically-produced foods:
- According to a forthcoming analysis from the Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition, the federal government directly purchased $9.1 billion worth of food in fiscal year 2022. That total does not include food purchased by contractors who sell food on federal property like National Parks, museums, and employee cafeterias. The government has an opportunity and responsibility to leverage its purchasing power to increase demand for nutritious foods and foods produced in a manner that protects the environment, strengthens local economies, safeguards animal welfare, advances racial equity, and empowers workers—an approach we refer to as “values-aligned” food procurement. This increased demand would foster product reformulation and innovation throughout the food supply, and the increased supply in turn would improve access to healthier, ethically produced foods and beverages for all consumers.
Lead by example:
- Along with the 196 federal government commitments in the National Strategy, the Biden-Harris Administration called on non-federal stakeholders, such as state and local governments, non-profits, and the private sector, to participate in a whole-of-society response to hunger and diet-related disease. Those calls-to-action included urging state, local, and territorial governments to adopt the FSG in their own facilities. Yet getting its own house in order when it comes to food and nutrition appears not to have been a top priority for the Administration in the year since the White House Conference. Enacting a binding policy to require implementation of the FSG would send a clear signal that the federal government is willing to walk the walk.
A formal directive from the White House is critical to making a whole-of-government shift toward values-aligned food procurement. An executive order would provide the clear authority necessary for federal agencies to incorporate the FSG into their food purchasing and food service operations.
The Biden-Harris Administration has less than 16 months of guaranteed time to make good on the outstanding commitments in the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. By prioritizing improvements to its own food purchasing and service, the federal government can spur the healthy, sustainable, and just food system transformation we need.