A few weeks ago, the White House hosted the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, where administration officials announced a commitment to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030.

Taking center stage at the conference were two announcements: First a commitment of $8 billion by civic, academic, and philanthropic leaders aimed at reducing hunger and improving nutrition. The second was the release of a National Strategy detailing actions the federal government will initiate and calls to action for other sectors to do the same.

Prior to the conference, many organizations, including Healthy Eating Research, submitted comments to inform the national strategy. We attended the conference virtually and were pleased to see that several of Healthy Eating Research’s recommendations aligned with priorities in the national strategy, including:

  • Increasing access to free school meals and expanding pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) summer meals.
  • Expanding SNAP eligibility and healthy food incentives.
  • Implementing a strategy to modernize WIC, including expansion of WIC online shopping.
  • Increasing funding to improve metrics and research to inform nutrition policy, particularly focused on equity and food access.
  • Addressing administrative inefficiencies, such as improving application processes across nutrition programs, and making connections between nutrition assistance and other assistance programs and departments, such as Housing and Transportation.

This is where the rubber hits the road: Many of the important recommended policy changes, such as expanding SNAP and healthy school meals for all, will be the most difficult to implement because they would require congressional approval. In the coming months and year, Congress is facing the reauthorization of two important legislative vehicles that guide federal nutrition programs: The Child Nutrition Act and The Farm Bill.

During the pandemic we learned many lessons about how these programs were absolutely critical to addressing food insecurity, and programs adapted to meet unprecedented needs. Several speakers during the conference called for making COVID-related temporary waivers and policy changes permanent since they allowed food and nutrition programs to reach more people with fewer administrative barriers – and the research supports it:

Over the last two years, HER has been funding research to examine COVID-related policy and program changes and their impact on child and family health and nutrition. Our current funding opportunity also focuses on this topic, with new grants to begin in 2023. Findings from these projects to date include:

  • WIC: The pandemic presented new challenges and exacerbated existing barriers faced by WIC participants including difficulty accessing required in-person appointments, limited availability of WIC-approved food items, and inability to redeem WIC benefits online. Pilot programs across the U.S. successfully implemented WIC online ordering and phone appointments, finding that participants were satisfied with remote services and wanted them to continue post-pandemic.
  • SNAP: Waivers and program flexibilities and the expansion of SNAP online purchasing generally helped improve benefit access and adequacy, but additional infrastructure and policy updates are needed to improve both states’ ability to administer SNAP and the availability and accessibility of services.
  • Healthy School Meals for All: In response to pandemic-related disruptions, the USDA allowed schools to serve universal free meals to all students. A systematic review found that healthy free school meals for all benefit both students and schools.
  • Feeding kids when schools are closed: Grab-and-Go School Meals and P-EBT were two approaches schools adopted during COVID-related closures. These programs are complementary. Together, they provided millions of children with food while schools were closed and mitigated the effects of school closures on food insecurity.

Ending hunger, improving nutrition, and reducing disparities have been declared national priorities. Now it is up to all of us to ensure each sector does their part and follows through on their stated commitments. We are ready to do ours by identifying potential new areas of research and continuing to support research to improve child and family nutrition and advance health and nutrition equity.

See the White House National Strategy here.

See the recommendations HER submitted to the White House here.