White House to hold first conference on hunger, nutrition in more than 50 years

Amid a new report that says food insecurity worldwide is rising to record levels, the White House announced on Wednesday that it will hold a conference on hunger and nutrition later this year for the first time in more than a half-century.

President Joe Biden’s administration said that the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health will be held in September and aims to devise solutions for malnutrition and food insecurity in the United States.

Officials said that the summit is designed to accelerate progress to help curb hunger and improve nutrition and physical activity among Americans. It also aims to reduce diet-related disease and close social disparities around them.

Biden’s administration is setting a goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity nationwide by the end of the 2020s.

“Hunger, diet-related disease, and the disparities surrounding them impact millions of Americans, and the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the urgency of addressing these issues,” domestic policy adviser Susan Rice said in a statement Wednesday.

“No one should have to wonder where their next meal will come from. We must take bold steps now — with government, the private sector, non-profits, and communities working together — to build a healthier future for every American.”

The White House says that millions of Americans struggle regularly with hunger — a challenge that disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, Native American, low-income and rural communities.

“Lack of access to healthy and affordable foods is one of many factors impacting hunger and diet-related diseases,” the White House said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges further. We cannot wait to act. And we aren’t.”

The Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health has been held only once before — during President Richard Nixon’s first year in office in 1969. That summit — which was called the Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health — ultimately produced landmark legislation that influenced U.S. food policy for the next half-century.

Nixon said at the start of that conference that it aimed to “put an end to hunger in America … for all time.”

At the 1969 conference, hundreds of scientists, activists and business leaders made more than 1,800 recommendations — that ultimately led to the creation of many new federal programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. All those programs still serve Americans today.

The White House announcement Wednesday came on the same day as a Food and Agriculture Organization report that said food insecurity worldwide rose to record levels in 2021.

The United Nations agency said that acute hunger affected 193 million people in 53 countries last year — an increase of almost 40 million compared to 2020. The report noted a “toxic triple combination” of war, extreme weather and economic impacts of COVID-19 as a key driver of global hunger.

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