The data are stark: the typical American diet is shortening the lives of many Americans. Diet-related deaths outrank deaths from smoking, and about half of U.S. deaths from heart disease – nearly 900 deaths a day – are linked to poor diet. The pandemic highlighted the problem, with much worse outcomes for people with obesity and other diet-related diseases.
“We’re really in a nutrition crisis in this country.” says Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University
Now, there’s growing momentum to tackle this problem. The Biden administration will hold the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on September 28th, and will announce a new national strategy. This comes more than 50 years after a landmark White House conference which helped launch today’s major federal food assistance programs.
“The 1969 conference was transformative,” Mozaffarian says. The programs it ushered in, like the WIC program, have helped feed millions of low-income families.
But this hasn’t been enough to solve the dual problems of food insecurity and diet-related disease. Food policy leaders say it’s time to think anew and build on what we’ve learned. The U.S. can’t “fix” hunger by just feeding people cheap, high-calorie, processed foods – the food that’s so abundant in our food supply, they say. Instead, it’s got to find ways to nourish people with healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and thinking about food more broadly and how we can fix this crisis,” Mozaffarian told NPR. He’s co-chair of an independent task force that includes doctors, chefs, food policy and business experts, as well as farming and health advocates, who are helping form the agenda at upcoming the White House conference.
In a new report, they’ve proposed a wide-ranging set of recommendations to end hunger, advance nutrition and improve health. Here are seven big ideas they’re excited about: