by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-security

May 10 2022

Exciting news: White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

On May 4, I was sent this press release from Tufts University : White House Announces Historic Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

Today, the Biden-Harris administration announced that it will hold a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this September…This will require bringing together diverse stakeholders, and raising the voices of people with lived experiences in food and nutrition insecurity, hunger, and diet-related disease…

To inform and help achieve these goals…[we]are announcing the formation of the Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health (Task Force), along with an accompanying Strategy Group on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health to advise the Task Force.

The Task Force brings together a diverse, non-partisan group of stakeholders to inform the goals of the White House Conference. This effort is not organized or endorsed by the White House, but represents an independent effort to convene voices from across the nation to help solve the issues at the heart of the Conference’s focus.

The official White House announcment makes clear that this conference is about both food insecurity and dietary determinants of chronic disease and COVID risk.

Millions of Americans struggle with hunger. Millions more struggle with diet-related diseases—like heart disease and diabetes—which are some of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S.

The toll of hunger and these diseases is not distributed equally, disproportionately impacting underserved communities, including Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans, low-income families, and rural Americans.

This is exciting news.  As I wrote in a previous post, if you are old enought or up on the history of US nutrition policy, you might remember the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health.  This led to the creation and strengthening of many nutrition programs, SNAP among them.

Tufts held a 50th anniversary conference at which I spoke (videos of the talks are here–I was on Panel 3 starting at about 17 minutes in).

And now for the questions.

Mine is this: What will be the balance between the conference focus on food insecurity (not controversial except for the cost) and the greatly needed fbut highly controversial focus on poor diets and their consequences for chronic disease and COVID risk?

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler asks: What about food safety? 

Let this sink in: The CDC estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.  It is not that I do not think a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is important and necessary, but could ya throw a bone to those sickened by foodborne illnesses?

E&E News notes: Biden nutrition conference may fire up climate debate on meat

Of all the food and agriculture interests bound to be represented in the Biden administration’s discussions, meat — and especially beef — may have the biggest messaging challenge, extolling its value in the diet against charges that Americans already eat too much and that raising and sending livestock to market contributes to climate change.

“We look forward to being a part of this important conversation and sharing the science-based, data-driven research regarding the immense environmental and nutritional benefits from cattle and beef production,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a producers’ trade group, told E&E News.

I suspect we will have many opportunities to weigh in on this.

I, for one, will be watching the progress on this conference with great interest.  Stay tuned.

Resources

Mar 29 2022

No surprise: household food insecurity is increasing

The USDA tracks food insecurity in the United States.

The percentage closely tracks employment.  The 2008 recession caused an uptick, but then it declined.

Now it’s up again, thanks to the pandemic’s putting so many people out of work and causing food prices to rise.

The 2020 figure is nearly 15%, with 6.8% of children having especially low food security.

The Biden administration is working on this, as well it should.

Jan 21 2022

Weekend reading: two discouraging reports on food insecurity

I.  FAO.  State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2021.

This annual report reflects some of the pandemic’s collateral damage.

This year, this report estimates that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320  million people in just one year. No region of the world has been spared.

The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people in every region of the world.

The trend is in precisely the wrong direction.  The report discusses what needs to be done to reverse it

II.  The second report, this one from the World Food Programme, focuses on countries in crisis.

Regions in Asia and Africa have been hit hardest.  The report gives the situation country by country.

These reports do not make light reading, but much effort has gone into providing data as a basis for policy.

And do we ever need policy.

Jul 20 2021

World hunger: 2021 Version

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has just released its latest annual report on worldwide food insecurity.  The news is not good.

FAO.  The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World: Transforming Food Systems for Food Security, Improved Nutrition and Affordable Healthy Diets for All. Rome 2021.

Last year’s report stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic was having a devastating impact on the world’s economy, triggering an unprecedented recession not seen since the Second World War, and that the food security and nutrition status of millions of people, including children, would deteriorate if we did not take swift action. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable and those living in fragile contexts. This year, this report estimates that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year. No region of the world has been spared.

What’s shocking about these data is that they reverse long-standing downward trends.

What is the prognosis?  Better but not great, especially in Africa.

The report is 236 pages.  It provides frameworks and maps for what needs to be done and gives international examples of countries that have found ways to do these things.  Here is one example.

The report sets a big, complicated, but clear agenda on this point.  Let’s get to it.

As to the larger agenda for ending food insecurity, the report recommends:

  • Transform food systems
  • End conflicts
  • Reduce climate change
  • Reduce socioeconomic inequalities
  • Etc.

It gives examples of local programs and policies where some of this is happening.  Inspiration is needed here.  And strong leadership.

Apr 21 2021

Let’s pay attention to nutrition security (as well as food security)

Dariush Mozaffarian (Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts), Sheila Fleischhacker (Georgetown University Law Center), and the chef, José R. Andrés, now of World Central Kitchen, propose to drop the term “food security” and replace it with “nutrition security.”

For decades, US policies to address hunger and food insecurity have focused largely on providing sufficient calories or quantities of food. However, effectively addressing the current diet-related challenges in the US will require a shift beyond these concepts to the broader concept of nutrition security. Addressing nutrition security, which can be defined as having consistent access, availability, and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being and prevent (and if needed, treat) disease, may be the next needed approach to inform clinical care and public policy.

Their point: it’s not enough to provide adequate calories to people who need food; those calories should come from foods that promote health.

…many policies and programs to address food security continue to place a greater emphasis on access to quantity, rather than quality, of food. The prevalence of obesity and diabetes is at an all-time high, with highest risk among individuals who are food insecure. Traditionally marginalized minority groups, as well as people living in rural and lower-income counties, are more likely to experience disparities in nutrition quality, food insecurity, and corresponding diet-related diseases. Clearly, the current approach is not sufficient.

And they recognize the need for “upstream” public policies to promote healthier diets:

An emphasis on nutrition security also could serve as a better guide for public health investments and national research, for which a growing coalition of antihunger, clinical, public health, and business groups recognizes the critical need for a stronger evidence base to accelerate food and nutrition solutions. From a societal standpoint, because poverty and food insecurity are closely associated, efforts must be made to reduce the level of poverty in the US.

This is a short editorial piece titled “Prioritizing Nutrition Security in the US.”

I’m for it.

Sep 23 2020

Hunger in America: The landscape in 2020

Before getting into the statistics, let’s start with the on-the-ground reality: real people, often with small children, are too poor to feed themselves and their families properly.  For the human impact of pandemic poverty, see:

Prior to the pandemic, poverty and food insecurity were declining in America.

But now we have pandemic-induced illness, job losses, school closures, business closures.

The USDA won’t report on food insecurity for another year, so it’s difficult to know what’s happening right now.  USDA data on SNAP are available only through April.

Even then, early signs were alarming.

We badly need effective policies to protect people against hunger.

Additional USDA resources

  • Food Security in the U.S.  Food security—access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life—is one requirement for a healthy, well-nourished population. ERS plays a leading role in Federal research on food security in U.S. households and communities.
  • Food Security in the United States: This product provides information about publicly available data from national surveys that include the U.S. Food Security Survey Module. Technical information is provided to facilitate appropriate use of the data, and links are provided to access data online or to order the data files on CD-ROM.
  • Statistical Supplement to Household Food Security in the United States in 2019: This supplement to Household Food Security in the United States in 2019 describes food insecurity and how it is assessed.

 

 

 

May 13 2020

Now is the time to strengthen SNAP

Yesterday, I mentioned the commentary in the New York Times—Americans Are Lining Up for Food. What Is Team Trump Doing?—calling on the USDA to expand SNAP rather that transfer responsibility for food assistance to private food banks.  No matter how good they are—and many do fabulous work—volunteer charitable agencies cannot keep up with assistance demands.

SNAP can.

SNAP, as I explained recently, is the last vestige of what used to be a much stronger safety net for the poor.  It is demonstrably effective in raising families out of poverty and reducing levels of food insecurity.

SNAP’s great strength is that it is an entitlement.  We have more than 30 million people newly unemployed in the United States.  Many of them will qualify for SNAP and are entitled to program benefits.

SNAP ought to command widespread bipartisan support, but the program is instead a flashpoint for political battles.

The reality of so many Americans running out of food is an alarming reminder of the economic hardship the pandemic has inflicted. But…Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps — a core feature of the safety net that once enjoyed broad support but is now a source of a highly partisan divide. Democrats want to raise food stamp benefits by 15 percent for the duration of the economic crisis, arguing that a similar move during the Great Recession reduced hunger and helped the economy. But Republicans have fought for years to shrink the program, saying that the earlier liberalization led to enduring caseload growth and a backdoor expansion of the welfare state…The Republican distrust of food stamps has now collided with a monumental crisis. Cars outside food banks have lined up for miles in places as different as San Antonio, Pittsburgh and Miami Beach.

Anti-hunger groups make a strong case for a 15 percent increase.  Feeding America is running ads to promote SNAP, for example, this one targeting North Dakota

In the meantime, we have relief funds..

If history teaches us anything, it is that private charity can never replace government policy.  Now, more than ever, we need government for the people.

Oct 4 2017

Food security: a roundup of new reports: international and domestic

International

For the past few weeks I’ve been collecting reports on food security.  I’ve already posted the most recent report on worldwide trends (not good) from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Here are two more on global trends:

In an editorial triggered by the FAO report, The Lancet announces a major effort to address global food security:

In 2018, The Lancet will launch four food-related initiatives: the EAT-Lancet Commission, the LancetObesity Commission, a Series on health and agriculture, and a Series on the double burden of malnutrition. Each of these projects will reinforce a different aspect of the global call for equitable and sustainable provision of food to be a priority: recommending how policy makers approach food systems inclusive of health, cultural respect, agriculture, production, transport, trade, and retailing.

U.S. Domestic

In the meantime, food security remains a significant issue in the U.S., as indicated by this collection of recent reports, mostly from USDA: