The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health was held on September 28, 2022. The first (and previously only) White House Conference was held in 1969, and helped create vital federal nutrition programs and improve food labeling laws. For this Conference, after collecting input through listening sessions, convenings, comments, and other means, the White House released a National Strategy describing actions the federal government will take to drive solutions to end hunger, increase healthy eating and physical activity, and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030. It also lays out a slew of ambitious actions that state and local governments, businesses, community-based organizations, and other partners can take to help.

The National Strategy recognizes that food insecurity and chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers, go hand in hand. It also acknowledges that the burdens of hunger and diet-related diseases fall disproportionately on marginalized communities, including Indigenous peoples, Black and Brown peoples, elders, people living in rural areas, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, military families, and veterans. Structural racism and other structural inequities in access to education and job opportunities, health care, safe housing, transportation, and neighborhood design—what we in public health refer to as the social determinants of health—are key drivers of these inequitably distributed burdens.

The National Strategy charges a wide array of federal agencies with specific action steps, taking a much needed holistic approach to addressing these inequities. For example, in addition to the obvious candidates (U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food & Drug Administration), it includes action items for the Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA, and the Departments of Defense, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Transportation, Justice, Veteran Affairs, and others. Many of these actions will also require Congressional support.

The Strategy groups the actions within five pillars:

  1. Improve Food Access and Affordability, by expanding eligibility for and increasing participation in food assistance programs and improve transportation to places where healthy food is available to make sure everyone can access and afford nutritious food – including people in urban, suburban, rural, and Tribal communities, and territories.  .
  2. Integrate Nutrition and Health, by prioritizing nutrition and food security in health care systems, services and healthcare workforce development,  and specifically through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, as well as other federal programs and private insurance.
  3. Empower Consumers to Make and Have Access to Healthy Choices, by providing updated and easier to understand labeling; fostering healthier food environments and a healthier food supply to make it easier for people to identify, find and eat healthier foods (and focusing on fresh produce, and reducing sugar and sodium consumption specifically); expanding supports for breastfeeding; and investing in public education campaigns that are culturally appropriate, especially for low-income consumers.
  4. Support Physical Activity for All, by investing in efforts to connect people to safe places to be active, like parks and other outdoor spaces, including through active transportation and land use policies; supporting tailored physical activity education and promotion to increase awareness of the benefits; and provide funding support for promoting the federal  Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
  5. Enhance Nutrition and Food Security Research, by increasing funding to improve data collection and research to inform nutrition science and food security policy in a coordinated way, and focusing particularly on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion (including in the research and the workforce), as well as advancing better understanding of how the social determinants of health affect nutrition, health and food security, and of the intersections of these issues with climate change.

To advance these efforts, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies developed a report summarizing current federal efforts related to food insecurity and diet-related diseases, and identifying specific statutory, regulatory, and budgetary solutions.

The White House also launched a call to action for a whole-of-society response with recommended actions for territorial, state, and local governments, school districts, philanthropy, and private sector actors such as the food industry and food retailers. To complement this, the White House is calling for business, civic, academic, and philanthropic organizations to make commitments to advance the work of ending hunger, improving healthy food access and physical activity, and reducing diet-related chronic diseases. The White House announced more than $8 billion in private- and public-sector commitments as part of the call to action.

The National Strategy is exciting in its breadth and scope. The Public Health Law Center believes that everyone deserves to be healthy; but we all do not enjoy the same opportunities to be healthy. Lack of good access to healthy, culturally-appropriate foods and safe physical activity opportunities are structural problems that require structural solutions, cross-sector collaboration, and deep community engagement. The National Strategy is a good step, and the Conference’s efforts to hold listening sessions and encourage convenings to generate input is promising. This kind of process provides opportunities to tap the collective brilliance of our communities and build momentum. But this is hard work that takes resources as well as sustained focus, and key questions remain to be addressed about political will and accountability for progress. But we believe ending hunger by 2030 is something that can be done, if we put our hearts and minds to it. The Center looks forward to working with its partners to contribute to this important work. blog

By Morgan Jones Axtell, Staff Attorney and Julie Ralston Aoki, Director of Healthy Eating & Active Living Programs
October 28, 2022