White House Doorbell

Can the White House Nutrition Conference Help?

Perhaps you’ve heard. Next month, the White House will host a new conference on hunger, nutrition, and health. The goal of this conference is promising:

“End hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.”

We like the implicit acknowledgement that obesity is a real disease, on par with diabetes and hypertension. A bipartisan subplot is to build upon the legacy of a Republican administration (Nixon) that hosted the first and only such conference half a century ago.

But the real question for this conference is how can this help?

The Legacy of Half a Century

The first conference came at a tumultuous time in American history. In 1969, divisions because of the war in Vietnam brought marches, protests, and tear gas into the streets. Martin Luther King’s assassination was a fresh wound and milestone in the struggle for racial equity. Despite all the tumult, that first conference did indeed spark great progress in nutrition, as Eileen Kennedy and Johanna Dwyer explain:

“The landmark conference led eventually to the nationwide expansion of food stamps and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); permanent authorization of the National School Breakfast Program; and sowed the seeds for food-based dietary guidelines and nutrition labeling.”

Can We Confront Nutrition Equity?

Despite all that progress, it is fair to ask if we have really done enough to solve the issue of nutrition equity. Disparities in health flow from disparities in nutrition and many signs suggest that these are growing wider.

No signal of this is more glaring that the news that type 2 diabetes cases have doubled for Black and Hispanic youth in the pandemic while cases have gone down for White youth. This evidence of raging disparity is dismaying.

Equally dismaying is partisan bickering over who will get the short end of the stick on nutrition programs. Once again, in the deliberations leading to a task force report for the White House nutrition conference, such squabbles flared.

A Long Road to Health Outcomes

Do we need to explain that trying to figure out who gets shafted kinda gets in the way of pursuing a goal of equity in nutrition?

We get it. People, like animals, align with a sense of social order. Who goes first, who gets privileges. But we also like to believe that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. And it is only just that all of this world’s precious children should have access to nourishing and healthful food. Whenever this is not so, health will suffer and disparities will grow.

Click here for more on the upcoming White House conference, here and here for more on food equity.

White House Doorbell, photograph by Bradley Weber, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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August 25, 2022