White House conference, first in 50 years, will focus on diet and nutrition

eats-150x150The Biden Administration this month will tackle one of the major, persistent challenges that perplexes and damages the health and well-being of most regular folks: what they eat, as well as their regular sources of food.

The scheduled Sept. 28 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health will be only the second of its kind in modern history and the first in almost a half a century, NPR has reported, adding that it will be a timely and notable event. As Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told the broadcast news reporters:

“We’re really in a nutrition crisis in this country.”

As NPR reported:

“[T]he 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.”

The blue-chip experts from an array of fields who have been researching key policy approaches to this health problem have compiled their own distressing statistics about what they say are “some of the country’s most prominent food and nutrition challenges—persistent food insecurity, increasing prevalence of diet-related diseases, and widening health disparities,” reporting:

“About 1 in 10 U.S. households were food insecure at least some time during 2020, and suboptimal diets and the proliferation of diet-related diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, have contributed to a situation in which only 1 in 15 U.S. adults have optimal cardiometabolic health. Youth are also affected —1 in 4 have prediabetes, 1 in 4 have overweight or obesity, and 1 in 8 have diet-related fatty liver disease. These adverse health outcomes disproportionately affect people from racial and ethnic minority groups, people with lower incomes, residents of rural areas, and other populations impacted by systemic inequities. Beyond effects on health, these issues exert substantial strains on productivity, health care spending, and military readiness. It is clear that the challenges of food insecurity, diet-related diseases, and health inequities intersect with and exacerbate each other, and that radical systemic changes across multiple sectors are needed to adequately address them.”

NPR interviewed some of the experts whose findings will be highlighted at the conference, noting that several of the action plans to be considered already are generating excitement.

The experts, for example, want the public to consider whether doctors and other health personnel can consider food as “medicine,” working with appropriate vendors and prescribing healthier foodstuffs (such as more fruits and vegetables) and ordering carefully tailored diets and meals for patients with conditions that would benefit.

The conference, NPR reported, also will try to focus attention on getting better diet and nutrition information and even formal counseling to regular folks, so the nation steers away from thinking just about, say, providing empty but high calories instead of quality, nutritious foods. Government health programs, the experts argue, should expand to better educating people about savvy shopping, convenient and flavorful cooking, and preventive diet and nutrition measures — instead of the dispensing of costly prescription drugs and other medical treatments.

Although Republicans in Congress have stubbornly resisted and stripped out funding to do so, kids across the country should get more and free meals at schools, the experts argue. Offering steady, low- or no-cost food for youngsters in this way keeps them healthier, better able to excel in their studies, and it is a fast, proven, and relatively easy and less expensive way to attack hunger and to lift up millions of young people who will determine the nation’s future.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal with the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.

The areas of diet and nutrition have become especially fraught, full of conflicts of interest, bad players, and outright profiteering hokum. It is difficult to the max to control for myriad factors and to study with rigor people and their eating habits and dietary outcomes. That has not stopped wild theorizers, scam artists, and the misguided for a long time from blowing smoke at the public with wild claims.

Experts have provided plenty of evidence about the health harms caused by our poor diet and nutrition, including our excess consumption of salt and sugar. We need to take urgent and appropriate steps to safeguard our wellness by eating in more healthful fashion. It may be eyebrow-raising for the White House to host a food and nutrition conference when, supposedly, federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all have important oversight and responsibilities in these areas. They are not doing enough, clearly. Preventing serious health conditions is far better and cheaper than medically treating them. We have much work to do to improve our diets and our health.

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