Senate committee hearing focuses on improving nutrition
Washington, D.C. – On Nov. 2, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics and Research hosted a hearing focusing on “The State of Nutrition in America 2021.”
Among those in attendance were U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mike Braun (R-IN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and five witnesses, including Dr. Angela Odoms-Young, Dr. Donald Warne, Dr. Patrick Stover, Dr. Angela Rachidi and Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian. The panel of experts shared testimonies supporting agriculture’s involvement in offering solutions to the challenges of diet-related diseases, including type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer and chronic kidney disease.
Booker says the census among presenters is “America is facing a massive, broad-based nutrition crisis. Nearly one out of every three dollars in the federal budget now goes to healthcare spending with 80 percent of this money paying for the treatment of preventable diseases, and these costs are rising at a staggering rate.”
He continues, “In 1960, three percent of the population was obese. Today, more than 40 percent of Americans are obese, and more than 70 percent are either obese or overweight, and even more shocking, one-quarter of teenagers today are prediabetic or have type two diabetes.”
This problem, Booker shares, is a result of collective policy failure.
“It’s a policy failure because the federal government is currently subsiding easy access to foods which are high in calories, but have minimal nutritional value,” he notes. “ At the same time, urban and rural communities alike lack access to the healthy foods they need to thrive.”
In addition to health concerns presented by unhealthy foods, the U.S continues to allow big corporations to spend billions of dollars every year for advertisement of low-nutrient products, according to Booker.
In 1969, the first conference on food, nutrition and health was held under the order of President Nixon to address the nation’s urgent concern of widespread hunger; resulting in programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to tackle accessibility to food.
Fast forward 52 years, while making progress to address hunger, there is still the concern with food insecurity and providing nutrient-based foods.
Hefty nutritional impacts and ethnic groups
“Between 2016 and 2030, it is estimated chronic diseases will cost America, on average, $2 trillion in medical costs and an extra $794 billion per year in lost employee productivity,” shares Odoms-Young.
The diets of most adults and children in America have long been short of national dietary recommendations.
Odoms-Young explains, “These diets consist of higher intakes of saturated fat, sodium and sugar sweetened beverages and lower consumption of fruits, vegetables and fiber.”
Both adults and young children are affected, but Odoms-Young shares people of color are the most impacted.
“People of color overall, and black populations specifically, face higher rates of diet-related chronic conditions and have poorer dietary intakes,” she shares. “The time to leverage new policy and programmatic efforts to decrease food-related hardship in black communities and increase opportunities for better access and affordability is now.”
According to Odoms-Young, these findings are persistent across all income levels, regardless of food assistance participation.
Warne shares current policies and programs have a similar impact on Native American populations in the U.S.
“American Indians have a crisis of nutritional disparities and subsequent health disparities,” Warne says, “Less access to healthy foods and dependence on inexpensive, processed foods leads to weight gain.”
He continues, “Obesity rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) are at a critical level. According to the Center for Disease Control, 48 percent of the AI/AN population 18 years of age and over are obese, as compared to 30 percent of the non-Hispanic white population.”
“AI/AN populations are diverse in terms of history, culture, disease patterns and nutritional health,” he explains. “Expanded research and evaluation of individual community health and nutritional status is needed to make informed policy decisions that will appropriately apply to the multitude of AI/AN populations.”
Understanding and knowledge
“Today, with fewer than two percent of Americans living on farms – compared to nearly half of them a century ago – people have become increasingly disconnected from and less knowledgeable about how food is produced,” says Stover.
There have been countless studies showing many people do not understand the very fundamental principles about where food comes from, and food technologies due to urbanization and efficient agricultural systems, according to Stover.
“The power of transforming health through food cannot be understated,” Stover says. “With current and emerging technologies, we can tailor agriculture and food systems to support any and all desired outcomes.”
Stover encourages the need to develop a systems-based approach to connecting agriculture, food, environment, economic and human health.
“It is also critical to restore trust across the entire food value chain, from producers to consumers,” Stover explains. “ To meet these critical expectations of the food system, all actors and players in the food system must have a seat at the table to ensure collaboration and cooperation, while keeping rigorous and transparent science and the goals of eliminating hunger while advancing human, environmental and economic health.”
“While the federal government’s nutrition assistance programs cannot solve the problems of poor diet and chronic disease alone, they can play an important role,” shares Rachidi.
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture operates 15 nutrition assistance programs, with the federal government spending more than $100 billion per year on food assistance to U.S. households, Rachidi explains. SNAP, the National School Lunch Program and WIC are among the largest of these programs.
There has been evidence which indicates these programs are effective in reducing hunger among U.S. households, but they could do more to support better nutrition and address poor health outcomes, according to Rachidi.
“The federal government spends upwards of $100 billion per year on food assistance programs, the largest of which involves SNAP,” Rachidi explains. “The problems of poor diet quality and the health consequences in America are bigger than the federal government’s nutrition assistance programs, but they can play a role in helping to address them.”
Some research suggests SNAP contributes to poor diet quality and is the largest expenditure involving sugary beverages, prepared foods and other nutritionally questionable products.
“It’s time to acknowledge the reality that billions of federal dollars earmarked to improve nutrition among low-income households in the U.S. are primarily being used on foods and beverages which are major contributors to poor health,” Rachidi concludes.
National security concerns
“Poor nutrition is also threatening our national security,” shares Mozaffarian.
Nearly 800 retired U.S. generals, admirals and other military leaders, have released several reports explaining poor nutrition is hampering military readiness. Mozaffarian shares many Americans aged 17 to 24 years old are ineligible to serve, with the top medical reason being obesity.
Mozaffarian calls for a national strategy to advance nutrition security, to not only end hunger and improve American’s health, but also reduce healthcare spending.
According to Mozaffarian, there are six priority domains for federal action to achieve this goal, including: advancing nutrition science and research; incorporating Food as Medicine into healthcare; leveraging federal nutrition programs; catalyzing business innovation and entrepreneurship; expanding nutrition education; and creating federal leadership, structure and authority for food and nutrition policy coordination.
Mozaffarian adds, “Developing ambitious but achievable goals for nutrition, hunger and health will require practical and synergistic policy actions across several domains.”
Fixing a nutrition crisis
“This nutrition crisis we face is a threat, and I would say is the greatest threat to the health and well-being of our country right now,” concludes Booker. “Millions and millions of Americans see and understand this threat in their communities, homes, families and own lives. It’s also a threat to our economic and national security. We must act now.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.