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White House Targets Food Insecurity, Social Determinants of Health

The five-pillar plan emphasizes the role food insecurity has on health and other social determinants of health, with the White House saying it will prioritize equity and access.

The White House wants to end hunger by 2030, the Biden Administration announced in its recently released National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The Strategy is part of a weeklong conference on hunger, and it explicitly touches on food security as a key social determinant of health, spelling out five key pillars for addressing the issue.

“When families can’t afford healthy food options, it’s harder for children to succeed in school, and it can lead to mental and physical health challenges for the whole family,” President Joe Biden wrote in the strategy’s introduction.

“For so many families—including families of color, those living in rural communities and territories, and low-income families—structural inequality, such as disparities in educational and economic opportunities and lack of access to health care, safe housing, and transportation, make the impact of hunger and diet-related diseases even more severe.”

The White House remarked that hunger and food insecurity are still serious issues plaguing the nation, noting that diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and certain cancers are still prevalent. These diseases—all of which are among the most expensive chronic diseases for payers—are entirely preventable when the nation prioritizes food security as a health issue, the White House asserted.

The National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health comprises a five-pillar approach. Foremost, the Biden Administration will work to improve access to nutritious food by expanding welfare and social programs like SNAP, free school lunches, expanding summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for kids, and generally working to increase overall financial security.

Second, the Biden Administration will work with Congress to test medically tailored meals for the Medicare population and test 1115 demonstration waivers for medically tailored meals in the Medicaid population. The Administration will also integrate health and food security by expanding Medicare and Medicaid beneficiary access to nutrition counseling.

As the third pillar, the National Strategy will target access to nutritious food, a key aspect of food security. Particularly, the Biden Administration has proposed front-of-packaging labeling for foods, updated criteria to allow claims that food is “healthy,” and expanded incentives for food and veggies in the SNAP program.

Sodium and sugar intake also fall within that third pillar.

The fourth pillar touches upon physical activity, with the Biden Administration saying it would expand the CDC’s State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program to all states and territories, investing in access to parks and green space, and regularly updating and promoting the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

And finally, the fifth pillar touches on research opportunities. The Biden Administration will increase funding to improve metrics, data collection, and research for nutrition and food security policy. That research will specifically focus on equity and access. Additionally, the National Strategy mentioned a vision for advancing nutrition science.

Food security has long been a big problem in the US, with healthcare leaders documenting the serious health impacts poor access to nutritious foods can have. In 2021, one in 10 US households experienced food security, with 4 percent experiencing very low food security, meaning those folks had to skip meals and cut back on food intake.

That high level of food insecurity has had an impact on the nation’s health. One in 10 Americans has diabetes, the National Strategy documented, and four in 10 have hypertension, which leads to heart disease.

Moreover, food insecurity is linked to other top social determinants of health, including educational attainment, job performance, and financial stress.

“A complex web of factors causes food insecurity and contributes to diet-related diseases and health disparities,” the report noted. “Education and job opportunities; access to health care, safe housing, and transportation; and neighborhood design all affect an individual’s ability to obtain food, make healthy choices, and remain physically active.”

And that is not to mention the role that institutional racism plays in food security. Black and Hispanic populations tend to have poorer access to stores and restaurants that sell healthier foods compared to their White peers.

People in rural areas and the south also see similar barriers to nutritious foods.

The Biden Administration said its National Strategy has taken equity into account, ideally working to curb those health disparities.

This National Strategy is dependent on some outside factors, like the cooperation of Congress, experts have noted.

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