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The White House Comes to the Table on Nutrition Policy

This fall, the White House turned its attention to nutrition, hosting the first Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in over 50 years. In the months leading up to the gathering, listening sessions were held across the country to gain insights from stakeholders; BPC hosted one such listening session in July to help guide the White House’s strategy.

The September conference brought together a broad range of stakeholders including lawmakers, advocates, thought leaders, industry experts, and individuals with lived experience. Unfortunately, bipartisanship was limited. But the policies presented at the conference leave space for leaders on both sides to join the conversation.

Ahead of the conference, the Biden-Harris administration released the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health which outlined their priorities regarding hunger and diet-related diseases. The five-pillar strategy includes improving food access and affordability; integrating nutrition and health; empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices; supporting physical activity for all; and enhancing nutrition and food security research. The administration recommends policies in each pillar aimed at various federal agencies with authority over parts of the health and nutrition sector. Further, a “call-to-action” for a whole of society response involving state, local, and tribal governments as well as non-government stakeholders was advanced.

For the last decade, the Bipartisan Policy Center has championed many of the ideas presented during the White House Conference. In May 2021, BPC focused its efforts on ways to improve food security and nutrition through national policy with the creation of the Food and Nutrition Security Task Force. Since its creation, the bipartisan task force, chaired by former Agriculture Secretaries Ann M. Veneman and Dan Glickman, Leslie Sarasin of FMI-The Food Industry Association, and José Andrés of World Central Kitchen, has released two policy briefs, Improving Food and Nutrition Security During COVID-19, the Economic Recovery, and Beyond and Strengthening the Child Nutrition Programs, that contain bipartisan policies agreed to by all task force members,

The overlap in policies between the administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and recent BPC policy briefs are significant. Specifically, the White House echoed BPC’S recommendations for expansions to key programs including the Summer EBT, senior nutrition programs, and emergency food assistance programs.

BPC and the administration also align on the policy recommendation to increase Medicare coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy, defined by the CDC as “nutrition-based treatment provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist.” Medical Nutrition Therapy is currently only covered in Medicare for people with diabetes and kidney disease despite benefits for an array of diet-related conditions. BPC’s 2022 policy brief Expanding Access to Obesity Treatments for Older Adults, and the Food and Nutrition Security Task Force’s report Improving Food and Nutrition Security During COVID-19, the Economic Recovery, and Beyond, spell out the need for expanding Medical Nutrition Therapy and behavioral interventions to aid in weight loss and management of diet-related diseases. The administration supports pilots for individuals in traditional Medicare who are experiencing diet-related health conditions using section 1115 demonstration projects. They also call for “efforts to expand evidence-based nutrition and obesity counseling benefits to Medicare beneficiaries with additional conditions and to allow appropriate providers to offer obesity screening and behavioral counseling to help patients lose weight.” The strategy labeled these interventions as “Food is Medicine,” a topic that BPC will be exploring.

BPC was encouraged to see the administration’s support for advancing a pathway for free healthy school meals for all. In the 2022 report Strengthening the Child Nutrition Programs, BPC’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force called for “all children, regardless of household income, (to) have access to nutritious foods to allow them to learn and grow by providing school breakfast, school lunch, afterschool meals, and summer meals to all students at no cost.” The White House echoed this recommendation with their own goal of providing access to free healthy school meals for 9 million more children by 2032. The administration stated that the Department of Agriculture will update nutrition standards for the school nutrition programs to better align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and provide technical assistance and funding for schools to reach this goal.

Expanding the focus on nutrition, the White House Strategy also called for the expansion of benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Similar to BPC’s past recommendations, the strategy notes that “USDA will propose updating the package of foods offered by WIC.” The administration is also calling for a permanent increase in the WIC program’s cash value benefit (CVB) for fruits and vegetables to support participants’ consumption of these foods in all forms. USDA will also work with other agencies to identify and provide outreach to individuals who are eligible for SNAP and WIC but are not currently enrolled. This aligns with BPC’s call for expanded eligibility and streamlined applications for these and other federal nutrition, health, and social service programs.

In early 2023, the Food and Nutrition Security Task Force will release its next report on opportunities to improve food and nutrition security through the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization. This report will focus on many policies highlighted during the White House Conference such as SNAP access and eligibility, increasing nutrition within the SNAP program, and improving the commodity distribution programs. As mentioned above, BPC will also begin to focus on “Food is Medicine” in 2023, expanding on some of the topics discussed in the White House strategic plan, such as medically tailored meals.

One major hurdle for the administration will be securing bipartisan support for their priorities. While the strategy calls for actions by specific agencies, many of the policies will require Congressional action to advance including increased funding. While the legislation calling for the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health was bipartisan, more policymakers on both sides of the aisle will need to coalesce behind specific policies before major changes can be made. The Bipartisan Policy Center is uniquely positioned to work with policymakers on both sides of the aisle and other key stakeholders to improve hunger, nutrition, and health across the U.S. We look forward to continuing bipartisan engagement on these pressing national issues.

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