President Biden announced today, May 4, that the White House will host a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health this September.
In a video posted on the White House website, Biden noted that this will be the first White House conference of this type since 1969.
Biden also said he is committed to taking “bold steps” to end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, reduce diet-related disease, and close the disparities around them. He urged the American people to participate in the listening sessions that will be held before the September conference.
House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has been urging presidents for years to hold a White House conference. At the urging of McGovern, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Braun, R-Ind. – the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Agriculture Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics and Research Subcommittee – Congress has provided the Health and Human Services Department $2.5 million to hold the event.
While anti-hunger and nutrition advocates have encouraged the conference, the decision to hold the conference before the November election has been the subject of discussion. The 1969 conference focused on the need for Americans to get more calories and led to changes to the food stamp program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school meals. It also led to the development of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children and other nutrition programs. Except for WIC and, since the Obama administration, school meals, those programs have not focused on the nutritional quality of food. This year’s conference is likely to make nutritional quality a centerpiece, which could divide anti-hunger advocates and nutritionists as well as farm groups and hurt Democrats in the election.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra released statements in a joint news release today.
Vilsack said, “For our country and our children to reach their highest potential, we must not only keep food on the table, but also aim for everyone to enjoy nutritious and affordable food that contributes to their overall health. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to tackling both food and nutrition insecurity in order to prevent the diet-related diseases that plague our country, address health disparities in underserved communities, and give all Americans a chance for a healthy future. The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health will help drive the transformative solutions we seek to enact in the Biden-Harris administration through a whole-of-government effort and alongside public and private stakeholders. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proud to be a partner as we work together toward the admirable goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating by 2030.”
Becerra said, “Tackling food insecurity is key to boosting our nation’s health. Our understanding of science and social determinants that affect nutrition and physical activity has evolved in the past five decades, and it is high time we prioritize nutrition more for the sake of saving lives. As we prepare to gather for this conference, HHS — in partnership with federal agencies — continues to make new discoveries tied to healthy eating and physical activity, and advance guidance and policy to reduce Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Strengthening access to affordable and healthy food cuts down on chronic disease and helps us advance health equity for all Americans.”
In a news release, the White House said, “The Biden-Harris administration has set a goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity in the U.S. by 2030 so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. The conference will galvanize action by anti-hunger and nutrition advocates; food companies; the health care community; local, state, territorial and Tribal governments; people with lived experiences; and all Americans, and it will launch a national plan outlining how we achieve this goal.”
“Hunger, diet-related disease, and the disparities surrounding them impact millions of Americans, and the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the urgency of addressing these issues,” Susan Rice, domestic policy adviser, said in the release. “No one should have to wonder where their next meal will come from. We must take bold steps now — with government, the private sector, nonprofits, and communities working together — to build a healthier future for every American.”
Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center, the leading lobbying group for SNAP, said today, “FRAC is heartened that, after more than half a century, there will finally be a second White House Conference focused on ending hunger in America.”
Guardia continued, “Now is the time to bring advocates, the private sector, local, state, U.S. territorial and Tribal governments, and people with lived experience to the nation’s largest table to determine how we can build upon the critical gains and lessons learned over the last five decades to further strengthen our food security safety net and eradicate poverty-related hunger in America.
“We know federal nutrition programs alone can’t solve hunger. We need broad-based solutions that address the root causes of hunger, such as inadequate wages and lack of affordable housing, among other barriers. The fact is no one should have to choose between putting food on the table and other basic necessities.
“FRAC looks forward to collaborating with a myriad of people and organizations at the national, state, and community level to bring attention to the reality of hunger and the policy solutions that exist.
“This is why FRAC is encouraging broad, diverse participation in the White House’s forthcoming listening sessions this summer, which will be open to the public. In the meantime, FRAC will work with advocates and individuals across the country to share stories on how anti-hunger programs and policies have provided much-needed nutrition support and can be further improved in recommendations for the conference via the White House website,” Guardia concluded.
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger President and CEO Abby Leibman said, “In convening a White House conference on an issue as persistent and pervasive as hunger, the Biden administration has taken a vital step toward lasting policies that can end hunger in America. From military families, to single mothers, to Tribal nations, the drivers of hunger are complex and unique — as must be the solutions.”
Ty Jones Cox, vice president for food assistance at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, issued a series of tweets praising the decision to hold the conference.
Produce for Better Health Foundation President and CEO Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak applauded the announcement, saying, “Nine out of 10 Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables each day – and with federal feeding and nutrition programs not adequately funded to close this gap – PBH believes it’s imperative to elevate fruit and vegetable consumption as a national priority to help improve public health and nutrition security. PBH, along with its members and partners, is eager to participate in the White House conference to help transform fruit and vegetable consumption behaviors through innovative consumer research; improved access for all people; and actionable, inspiring ideas that create new habits.”
International Fresh Produce Association Vice President of Nutrition & Health Mollie Van Lieu said, “The last time the White House convened experts on food, nutrition and health was 1969. That’s two, or three, generations of consumers since the last cohesive national effort on these significant issues. Our nutrition challenges have changed dramatically in the last 50 years with more than three-quarters of the country overweight or obese. We applaud the White House for recognizing the importance and urgency of addressing dietary quality, especially as the consequences of nutritional insecurity are so far-reaching. The fresh produce industry has long advocated for increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, but success will require a bold and coordinated strategy and public-private partnership. We look forward to bringing the industry’s expertise and insights to this process as it moves forward.”
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Food Systems for the Future, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and World Central Kitchen today announced the formation of the Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, along with an accompanying Strategy Group on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health to advise the task force.
“The task force brings together a diverse, non-partisan group of stakeholders to inform the goals of the White House Conference. This effort is not organized or endorsed by the White House, but represents an independent effort to convene voices from across the nation to help solve the issues at the heart of the conference’s focus,” the Friedman School said in a news release.
This effort is supported by the Bia-Echo Foundation and World Central Kitchen.