U.S. launches new campaign to end hunger and improve nutrition

conferencehungernutrition-300x133The Biden Administration, already locked in a long battle with the coronavirus and committed to a “moonshot” campaign against cancer, has announced it will tackle yet more persistent harms to the health of regular folks in this country — hunger, poor nutrition, and pernicious (but heavily marketed and highly profitable) foods.

The White House rolled up these issues and pledged at the first White House conference on them in a half century that this country will end U.S. hunger in a decade, the New York Times and other media organizations reported. The newspaper said this of the administration ambitions to deal with a fundamental of Americans’ health and wellbeing:

“The White House plan hinges on $8 billion in commitments from the private sector to help fight hunger, including $4 billion that will be dedicated by philanthropies that are focused on expanding access to healthy food. The investments will come from some of the largest corporations in America, including Google, Tyson Foods, and Walgreens. Other actions include expanding nutrition research and encouraging the food industry to lower sodium and sugar. But some of the most ambitious proposals — such as expanding food stamps (formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and introducing coverage of ‘medically tailored’ meals to Medicare — would require congressional action, a difficult prospect at a time of deep political divisions.’

The Washington Post reported more details about the administration’s hunger-fighting vision:

“The president suggested that the government, along with the corporate world, could play a bigger role in making nutritious food available in places where the supply is inadequate. ‘First, help more Americans access the food that will keep their families nourished and healthy — a lot of food deserts out there,’ Biden said. ‘Second, give folks the option and information they need to make healthy dietary choices. Thirdly, help more Americans be physically active.’ The pervasiveness of diet-related diseases creates broader problems for the country, White House officials said, hampering military readiness, workforce productivity, academic achievement, and mental health.

“Among the specific policies Biden previously promised: expanding free school meals to 9 million more children in the next decade; improving transportation options for an estimated 40 million Americans who have low access to grocery stores or farmers markets; reducing food waste (one-third of all food in the United States goes uneaten, the White House says); conducting more screenings for food insecurity; educating health-care providers on nutrition; reducing sodium and sugar in U.S. food products; addressing marketing that promotes fast food, sugary drinks, candy and unhealthful snacks; and building more parks in ‘nature-deprived communities.’”

Changes coming in food labeling

The federal Food and Drug Administration, concurrent with the White House nutrition conference, announced what could be described as a “back-to-front” shift in food labeling, as well as an official redefining of what can be called “healthy” eats. Here is a slice of what this means for health-conscious consumers, as the Washington Post reported:

The [FDA] announced new rules … for nutrition labels that can go on the front of food packages to indicate that they are ‘healthy.’ Under the proposal, manufacturers can label their products ‘healthy’ if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (such as fruit, vegetable, or dairy) recommended by the dietary guidelines. They must also adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. For example, a cereal would need to contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving for a food manufacturer to use the word ‘healthy’ on the label. The labels are aimed at helping consumers more easily navigate nutrition labels and make better choices at the grocery store. The proposed rule would align the definition of the ‘healthy’ claim with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the FDA said.”

Stat, the science and medical news site, added a dash more information about the new FDA thinking on “healthy” foods:

“Of particular note: The new ‘healthy’ requirements differentiate far more readily between good fats and not-so-good fats. The fats found in nuts and seeds, omega-3-rich fish such as salmon and herring, and plant-based oils such as olive, would make them eligible for a ‘healthy’ claim on food packaging. Eating foods with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in moderation has been linked to a slew of benefits: helping reduce inflammation and bad cholesterol, boosting good cholesterol, and lowering the risks of heart disease and obesity.”

Perils posed by ‘ultra-processed’ foods

But doctors, nutrition experts, federal regulators, and even the White House cannot easily improve regular folks’ health and what and how they eat, notably because markets globally now are crammed with “ultra-processed” foods that pose high risks to the well-being of all who consume them, the Washington Post reported, separately from its nutrition conference coverage:

“In many households, ultra-processed foods are mainstays at the kitchen table. They include products that you may not even think of as junk food such as breakfast cereals, muffins, snack bars and sweetened yogurts. Soft drinks and energy drinks count, too. These foods represent an increasingly large share of the world’s diet. Almost 60% of the calories that adults in America eat are from ultra-processed foods. They account for 25 %-50% of the calories consumed in many other countries, including England, CanadaFranceLebanonJapan, and Brazil. Every year, food companies introduce thousands of new ultra-processed foods with an endless variety of flavors and ingredients. These products deliver potent combinations of fat, sugar, sodium, and artificial flavors. They are what scientists call hyper-palatable: Irresistible, easy to overeat, and capable of hijacking the brain’s reward system and provoking powerful cravings.

“Yet in dozens of large studies, scientists have found that ultra-processed foods are linked to higher rates of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. A recent study of more than 22,000 people found that people who ate a lot of ultra-processed foods had a 19% higher likelihood of early death and a 32% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared with people who ate few ultra-processed foods.”

It can be challenging to reduce or eliminate ultra-processed foods from the U.S. diet, but a first step relies on consumers’ savvy. In brief, less is more: For their health’s sake, more regular folks must start improving their diet and nutrition by looking at the labels on everything they eat and drink. Avoid products carrying more complex label information, especially if the ingredient lists are long or contain unfamiliar names of additives or chemicals. This is a dead giveaway that Big Agriculture and Big Food, if the ingredient lists are long and chock full of additives and compounds, have progressively processed a product to the “ultra” level, experts say.

In my practice, I not only see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the clear benefits they may enjoy by staying healthy and far away from the U.S. health care system. It is, according to research conducted in pre-coronavirus pandemic times, fraught with medical errorpreventable hospital acquired illnesses and deaths, and misdiagnoses.

Common sense, long experience, and growing amounts of rigorous research have underscored the importance of prevention in improving our health. It is far cheaper and easier to avoid big, costly, invasive, and painful medical interventions and treatments. Instead, we all to need to think and do more about eating healthfully, exercising, skipping smoking, getting plenty of good sleep, using substances like alcohol or marijuana in moderation (or not at all), taking care in driving, and minimizing stresses in our lives.

Much pure bunk circulates about diet and nutrition. But as a journalist has written smartly about the abundance of research on the issue shows, we all can benefit by: Eating less, and ensuring more of what we do eat is more plants, fish, and nuts in their basic, less processed fashion. Cut down or out the excessive salt and sugar. Stop eating on the run and start trying to dine in casual, leisurely fashion with people you like and love. We have much work to do to ensure that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, no one goes hungry, and that we all have plenty of the most nutritious, enjoyable, and healthful food in appropriate abundance.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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