The White House announced Monday that the widely anticipated Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the first such meeting in more than 53 years, will be on held on Sept. 28.
In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House will use the conference to announce a national strategy "that identifies actions the government will take to catalyze the public and private sectors to drive transformative change and address the intersections between food, hunger, nutrition, and health."
She said the conference "will bring government leaders, academics, activists, and Americans from all walks of life together to achieve the goal of ending hunger and reducing diet-related diseases in the U.S. by 2030 – all while reducing disparities among the communities who are impacted the most by these issues."
White House officials expressed excitement over the conference on a call with stakeholders Monday, saying they are still finalizing details such as the invite list, and plan to provide a “robust virtual experience” available to anyone who wants to follow the proceedings.
“We will be limited in the number of people that we can invite, just partly because of physical limitations,” said Laura Carroll, a policy adviser for agriculture and rural policy.
Asked about how the White House is gathering congressional support for the strategy it plans to unveil at the conference, Catherine Oakar, Special Assistant to the President for Public Health and Disparities, said the administration has been encouraged by the interest on Capitol Hill, mentioning Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Braun, R-Ind. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has called for such a conference for years.
Carroll said organizers “have been engaging with stakeholders robustly over the last several months to hear ideas from all of you. … We are obviously very much looking to make sure that we are having transformative ideas” in order to achieve the conference’s ultimate goals of addressing hunger and nutrition and reducing diet-related diseases.
Asked about food deserts, Sharon Moffatt of the CDC Foundation, which is helping organize the conference, said one idea being considered is a fund that the foundation could use to direct resources where needed.
A task force established to advise the conference issued recommendations last week that include calls for the government to require nutrition labeling on the front of food packages, ease SNAP eligibility rules and make school meals free to more students. The task force’s 129-page report also recommends eliminating “lowest-bid requirements” for schools that discourage them from buying locally produced foods or taking environmental concerns into consideration when purchasing products.
The task force's co-chairs are Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman; former Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist; Ertharin Cousin, former executive director of the UN World Food Program; José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen; and Dariush Mozaffarian, dean for policy at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
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The last such conference occurred during the Nixon administration in 1969 and led to an expansion of the National School Lunch Program and what is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as to creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC. The conference also led to a significant expansion of succeeding farm bills.
Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, called the September conference an “opportunity to look at modernizing our approach to provide equitable access to nutritious food and physical activity through efforts by the private sector and at all levels of government.”
She noted that diet-related diseases are the leading causes of death in the United States and disproportionately affect minorities. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these disparities,” she said.