WASHINGTON — The White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health held Sept. 28 addressed several issues affecting the food industry, including front-of-package labeling, voluntary sodium reduction targets and potential voluntary added sugar reduction targets. Investing in school meals and the Supplemental Nutrition Association Program (SNAP) also was covered.
The conference set forth a goal to end hunger in America and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 so fewer Americans will experience diet-related diseases. It marked the first White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health since the Nixon administration held one over 50 years ago.
“That single conference and the laws it inspired led to transformational change that has helped millions of Americans live healthier lives for generations,” President Joe Biden said. “Since that time advances in research and medicine have taught us so much more about nutrition and health. Today, I’m convening this conference again because I believe we can use these advances to do even more to make America a stronger and healthier nation.”
The conference introduced five pillars: increasing food access and affordability, giving consumers access to healthy food choices such as front-of-package labeling, integrating nutrition and health, supporting physical activity, and enhancing nutrition and food security research.
The US Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration within the HHS will conduct research and propose developing a standardized front-of-package labeling system to help consumers “quickly and easily” identify foods that are part of a healthy eating pattern. The HHS also will assess evidence for further strategies to reduce added sugar consumption, collaborating with the US Department of Agriculture to hold a public meeting. Action could include developing voluntary added sugar reduction targets for food categories, which would be similar to voluntary targets the FDA already developed for sodium.
“As the administration proceeds, we urge against implementing policies that may inadvertently hurt consumers, especially in the volatile economic environment that has caused a spike in the cost to manufacture grocery products,” said Sarah Gallo, vice president of product policy for the Consumer Brands Association. “Focusing on incentive-based and voluntary initiatives, such as voluntary interpretive front-of-pack labeling schemes that are fully backed by extensive research, has the potential to positively affect our shared hunger, nutrition and health policy goals. We look forward to continued collaboration on solutions that prioritize consumer needs in the fight for a healthier America.”
The conference set forth goals to increase access to school meals, provide summer electronic benefits transfer benefits (P-EBT) to more children and expand SNAP eligibility. Over 36 million children received Summer P-EBT benefits in 2021. The administration also will seek to expand online shopping in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. The administration will push Congress to permanently extend the child tax credit and expanded earned income tax credit. Other goals are to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and invest in childcare.
One in 10 US households in 2021 experienced food insecurity, meaning their access to food was limited by lack of money or other resources.
“In every country in this world, in every state in this country, no matter what else divides us, if a parent cannot feed a child, there’s nothing else that matters to the parent,” President Biden said.
Consumers who lack access to food outlets that sell healthier food tend to be lower income, Black or Hispanic, live in rural areas, and are concentrated geographically in the South. The administration will promote transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements to support food access.
To integrate nutrition and health, the administration will work with Congress to create medically tailored meals for the Medicare program. The administration supports legislation to create a pilot to test covering medically tailored meals for consumers in traditional Medicare who have diet-related health conditions.
To support physical activity, the administration will expand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s state physical activity and nutrition program to all states and territories. To enhance nutrition and food security research, funding will be used to improve metrics, data collection and research to inform nutrition and food security policy.
“Today’s release of the strategy is just the beginning,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “The recommendations made in the Biden-Harris national strategy on hunger, nutrition and health are significant and will require ongoing work to implement and execute on the proposals. The strategy lays out big goals, and we need everyone — local, state, and tribal governments, Congress, private companies, nonprofit organizations, and everyday citizens - to work together to achieve them.”