On Wednesday, September 28th, the White House will hold a much-anticipated conference geared toward ending hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. by 2030, a goal set by President Biden in May. The conference will be the first of its kind in almost 50 years. The last conference of this sort was held by the Nixon Administration and resulted in the development of food stamps and other big food initiatives aimed at alleviating hunger and reducing obesity and diet-related health conditions.
The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health will bring together government officials, NGOs, and food policy experts to discuss next steps in bringing relief and support to the 38 million food insecure people in the United States — 6.1 million of whom are children.
The conference will also address the epidemic of obesity in America. Nearly three-quarters of Americans over the age of 15 are considered overweight or obese, and diet-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are responsible for more than 675,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
The link between food insecurity and obesity is a well-documented, though on the surface paradoxical, phenomenon. In low-income and otherwise marginalized communities, families rely more predominately on “convenience” foods — pre-prepared, highly processed, and inexpensive food items — that contribute to weight gain. And the prevalence of food deserts in high population-density areas is a leading contributor.
Experts agree that the COVID-19 pandemic brought into stark reality America’s troubling relationship with food, and shined a much-needed light on childhood hunger. Through the Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments, four million children were lifted out of poverty, and many more families could afford healthy food. With the cessation of the CTC payments, millions of children slid back into poverty and food insecurity.
“When families can’t afford healthy food options, it’s harder for children to succeed in school, and it can lead to mental and physical health challenges for the whole family. For so many families—including families of color, those living in rural communities and territories, and low-income families—structural inequality, such as disparities in educational and economic opportunities and lack of access to health care, safe housing, and transportation, make the impact of hunger and diet-related diseases even more severe. The pandemic made these problems worse, reinforcing the need for urgent, sustained action,” President Biden wrote in a letter beginning the 44-page document outlining his administration’s goals.
Biden’s plan to address issues surrounding hunger, food availability, and obesity is a multi-pronged approach that tackles the problems from multiple sides, including:
- Expanding the free school lunch program to include nine million additional children
- Updating transportation infrastructure to allow Americans easier access to grocery stores and supermarkets
- Increasing food insecurity screenings
- Reducing food waste
- Building more parks
- Addressing the marketing of sugary drinks and snacks
"Too many families don't know where they are going to get their next meal," said the President. "There are too many empty chairs around the kitchen table because a loved one was taken by heart disease, diabetes, or other diet-oriented diseases which are some of the leading causes of death in our country."