*Authored by Sarah Ohlhorst, MS, RD, Chief Science Policy Officer
It was an honor for the American Society for Nutrition to be invited to participate in the September 28th, 2022, White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. From the moment I entered the Ronald Regan Building and International Trade Center, there was palpable excitement in the air for the second White House conference on nutrition. More than 50 years have passed since the original 1969 conference, and many organizations, including ASN, have long advocated for this next conference to bring a spotlight on our current-day nutrition challenges. Food insecurity was front and center throughout the day’s proceedings.
The conference opened with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack highlighting the National Strategy to address hunger, nutrition, and health, which includes many of the recommendations that ASN proposed to the White House. The document is arranged by the five pillars that have anchored the White House’s actions leading up to and informing the conference.
- Improving food access and affordability;
- Integrating nutrition and health;
- Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices;
- Supporting physical activity for all; and
- Enhancing nutrition and food security research.
Then President Biden took the stage and was followed by many other high-profile speakers engaged in the day’s events, including the bipartisan supporters of legislation to bring about this conference: Representative Jim McGovern (D, MA) and Senators Cory Booker (D, NJ) and Mike Braun (R, IN), and Ambassador Susan Rice, whose team organized the event following the Administration’s vision. To hear so many policymakers advocating for better nutrition and to end hunger was highly energizing and added to the momentum of the conference. The conference brought together not only policymakers, but also advocates, researchers, people with lived experience, practitioners, school officials, food industry representatives, and organizations that create innovative nutrition solutions often through the use of technology.
Throughout the conference speakers highlighted the many challenges related to hunger and diet-related disease in the US, but also presented ideas and solutions to these challenges that are working across the nation. The National Strategy outlines examples of commitments federal agencies have made to address hunger, nutrition, and health, and during the conference it was also announced that many organizations had also made commitments to do their part to improve food and nutrition security. For example, improved access to nutrition services and medically tailored meals came up often as part of the Food as Medicine movement, as well as screening for food insecurity throughout institutions. The call for clearer front of pack labeling and increased fruit and vegetable consumption were mentioned as part of an urgent need for increased access to healthy foods.
Many of the challenges we see in nutrition are largely preventable and many disproportionately affect underrepresented populations. There is a very real need to improve our nation’s hunger and nutrition challenges, but a major take-away is that we can and will tackle these challenges. To do so, we must all work together. The need for a bipartisan whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach came up again and again, along with the need for collaboration and partnerships. The conference is a jumping off point, a call to action for the organizations and communities we all work and live in, including ASN, to join the cause and keep the drumbeat going to advance the cause. We must help our government partners address and put an end to hunger in the US, once and for all. Stay tuned for more ways ASN plans to help carry out the National Strategy and to learn how you can help too! A more in-depth look at the conference and National Strategy is being prepared for publication in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition soon.