President Biden pledged to end hunger in the U.S. by 2030 and commit $8 billion by the public and private sector to fight hunger and related diseases Wednesday, as he launched the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health since 1969.
“I know we can do this, end hunger in this country by 2030, and lower the toll that dietary-related diseases take on too many Americans,” Biden said in opening remarks at the Washington, D.C., conference. “There are a lot of food deserts out there,” he added.
The White House’s stated end goal for the conference: “End hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.”
“Some critics have pushed back at the term ‘food deserts,’ arguing that grocery chains, municipal decisions and lack of government funding contribute to what they call ‘food apartheid.’”
The last White House conference on hunger, under President Nixon, created several key programs, including school lunches; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and changes to how food manufacturers label their products.
The toll of hunger and nutrition-related diseases disproportionately impacts communities of color, those living in rural areas, people with disabilities, elderly people, the LGBTQ+ community, military families and veterans, the White House said.
Biden spoke of the need to eliminate “food deserts,” where predominantly low- and moderate-income communities have to travel miles to purchase fresh and healthy produce. The White House pledged grant and loan funding to encourage new grocery stores in these areas.
One in five Black households is located in a “food desert,” the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. said last year. Some critics have pushed back at that term, arguing that grocery chains, municipal decisions and lack of government funding contribute to what they call “food apartheid.”
Access to healthy and affordable food
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute said one in five adults reported household food insecurity in 2022, meaning that families were unable to acquire adequate food for one or more family members. (The White House put that figure at one in 10 for 2020.)
“With food prices skyrocketing at the same time that many of the pandemic-relief provisions have ended, many families and individuals have struggled to afford enough food,” Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer at the RWJF, a nonprofit dedicated to public health, said Wednesday.
“Policies need to be put in place immediately to ensure that everyone in every community in America — especially our children — has equitable access to healthy, affordable food,” Bussel said. Food insecurity is higher for Black (29%) and Hispanic (32%) households than white (17%), he added.
“Rapid food inflation in the latter half of 2022 will only further increase the risk of food insecurity for households across the country,” said Poonam Gupta, a research analyst at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
“As rollbacks of key programs leave households with fewer resources to meet the pressures of rising costs, intentional investment in social safety net policies is necessary to reduce further hardship in the coming months,” Gupta said.
Heart disease and diabetes
At the conference in D.C., Biden said the government aims to invest in school nutrition programs with partnership across the nonprofit and private sectors, and educational programs to promote healthy eating and prevent illnesses including heart disease and diabetes.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One person dies every 34 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease, the CDC said.
“About 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020 — that’s 1 in every 5 deaths,” the CDC said. “Heart disease costs the United States about $229 billion each year from 2017 to 2018.”
Frequent consumption of soda, fruit drinks and energy drinks is linked with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and gout, according to the CDC. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, and can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet, family history and genetics.
Biden told the conference that the country had to “think big” to cure dietary-related diseases and hunger. “In America, no child should go to bed hungry. No parent should die of a disease that can be prevented,” the president said.