The conference will take a “whole-of-government strategy” and involve public and private stakeholders, including food companies, public health advocates and “people with lived experiences,” among others to address the uneven toll of hunger and diet-related chronic diseases that disproportionately impact Black, Hispanic, Native American, low-income and rural Americans, according to The White House.
It will also examine the current food system to identify and attempt to addresses weaknesses that have restricted consumer choice and access to nutritious food and sown the seeds for economic insecurity for farmers, ranchers and rural communities, according the US Department of Agriculture.
In the spirit of including insights from a diverse set of stakeholders, the Biden-Harris administration will host virtual listening sessions, more details about which can be found here as they become available.
A precedent and need for change
The event comes more than 50 years after the inaugural conference which played a fundamental role in crafting the country’s food policy agenda in recent decades, including the creation of the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program, and expansion of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
Since that event, “our understanding of science and social determinants that affect nutrition and physical activity has evolved … and it is high time we prioritize nutrition more for the sake of saving lives,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement lauding The White House’s announcement.
“As we prepare to gather for their 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,” Becerra said, adding, “Strengthening access to affordable and healthy food cuts down on chronic disease and helps us advance health equity for all Americans.”
The White House explained in a statement that while “millions of Americans struggle with hunger,” and “millions more struggle with diet-related diseases … the toll of hunger and these diseases is not distributed equally, disproportionately impacting underserved communities, including Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans, low-income families and rural Americans.”
‘We cannot wait to act. And we aren’t’
The conference comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity and underscored the broad ramifications of diet-related diseases, including increasing vulnerability to the coronavirus.
It also comes at the behest of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including US Reps. James McGovern and Jackie Walorski and US Senators Cory Booker and Mike Braun.
Last year McGovern helped launch a nationwide grassroots movement calling for the policy conference and helped coordinate a letter to President Biden co-signed by 24 other congressional leaders asking the Biden Administration to end hunger by 2030 by “working past artificial government silos and focusing on holistic solutions.”
He also helped push through a bipartisan bill requiring the conference and secure $2.5million fund the event.
The White House, in a statement, agreed that “we cannot wait to act. And we aren’t.”