Sep 27, 2022 - Health

Biden revives the nutrition summit — but don't expect as much this time

Illustration of a silver cloche being lifted to reveal the capitol building

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The first White House nutrition summit in a half-century is due to kick off on Wednesday at a difficult political moment, with President Biden eager to put his imprint on food policy but areas for bipartisan cooperation scant.

Why it matters: The gathering, patterned on the summit former President Richard Nixon convened in 1969, comes after America's health vulnerabilities were laid bare by the pandemic.

  • Obesity and other food-related diseases like diabetes were closely linked with a far higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID.
  • The COVID public health emergency also allowed more families to access food via safety net programs like the Women, Infants, Children program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as free or reduced-price school lunches. Food insecurity, especially in children, has been found to be associated with worse health outcomes, such as asthma and diabetes.
  • Biden has said he wants to end hunger and food insecurity by 2030.

The big picture: Nixon's summit wound up shaping decades of food policy — even sparking the creation of such programs as WIC and SNAP.

  • "The 1969 conference was considered a huge success, but many factors contributed to the success including strong political will from the White House and from Congress," Frank Hu, a Harvard professor of nutrition and epidemiology told Axios. "I think we are at another historical crossroads facing unprecedented challenges but it may take some years to achieve a similar impact."

What to expect: Sodium warnings and medically tailored meals are among the topics that will likely surface.

  • While many proposals are built around executive branch actions, there's a long wish list for Congress in a plan the White House released this morning.
  • The 40-page document calls for for school meals for all, nutrition and obesity counseling for Medicare beneficiaries, a permanent extension of the child tax credit and expansion of SNAP, WIC and summer EBT programs.
  • It envisions the FDA developing a front-of-package food labeling scheme, bringing WIC and SNAP shopping online and screening individuals for food insecurity at federal health facilities.
  • Senior administration officials during a Monday press call expressed the hope there would be some areas for some bipartisan consensus.

Between the lines: As we saw with COVID, this will be an opportunity for the administration to highlight pledges for assistance from private companies.

  • "It's one of the first times the White House has taken obesity seriously," Andres Acosta, CEO of Mayo Clinic spinout Phenomix Sciences, which specializes in obesity treatment, told Axios.
  • Acosta is most interested in promoting what's come to be known as precision nutrition. "We need to stop saying one thing fits all. That 'We should all do the 'MyPlate, we should all do my MyPyramid. We should all do the same.' We need to find personalized nutrition: What's right for me?"

Our thought bubble: It's possible a few of the least controversial requests could be tucked into a year-end spending deal.

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