On Wednesday, May 4, 2022, the White House announced that it will host a conference on hunger, nutrition, and health in September 2022. The stated goal of the conference is to “end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.” However, this is not the first conference of this kind. The Nixon administration hosted a similar conference in 1969. The 1969 Conference encouraged many changes to the federal food and nutrition programs, helping to shape those programs into what exists today.

This blog post provides a historical context of the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. Additionally, this blog post explains that Congress mandated the Biden Administration to put on the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

The 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health

In the decade prior to the 1969 Conference, news outlets such as CBS published reports on hunger and malnutrition within the U.S., particularly in children. In response to these reports, President Richard Nixon announced the conference in May of 1969 and the conference convened in December of that year. President Nixon posed the following five questions to the conference attendees:

  1. How do we ensure a continuing surveillance of the nutritional health of the American people?
  2. What should be done to improve the nutrition of the more vulnerable groups of Americans…?
  3. As we develop new technologies of food production, processing and packaging, how do we monitor the wholesomeness and nutritional value of our foods?  And how do we make certain that the poor, and in fact all Americans, get the greatest amount of nutrients for their money?
  4. How do we improve nutrition teaching in our schools—from Head Start to medical schools?  And what programs of popular education are needed to better inform Americans, the poor and affluent alike, of proper food buying and food consumption habits?
  5. What should be done to improve federal programs that affect nutrition—either directly as in the Armed Forces and the Veterans Administration or indirectly through such programs as the food stamp, commodity distribution and school lunch programs?

To answer these five questions, the 1969 Conference consisted of 26 panels and 8 task forces, each of which came up with a series of recommendations on how the federal government can address a certain problem. For example, there were five panels, each representing a different segment of the agriculture and food industry, that addressed how each segment could “help the poor”. Of these five panels there was a panel focusing on how agricultural producers can “help the poor”, and another on how food manufacturers and processors can “help the poor”.

At the end of the 1969 Conference, the conference director, Dr. Jean Mayer, presented a final conference report to President Nixon. The final conference report compiled the panel recommendations which consisted of approximately 1,800 recommendations. Historical reports indicate that around 1,650 of the recommendations were implemented by 1971.

As a result of the 1969 Conference and the subsequent conference recommendations, many changes were made to federal nutrition policy. For example, many credit the 1969 Conference with influencing:

  • the creation of what is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC);
  • the expansion of the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program;
  • the expansion of what is now known of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
  • the creation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; and
  • the creation of nutrition labeling on food.

The 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

Although the 1969 Conference brought many changes to the federal nutrition assistance programs, many advocates, politicians, scientists, and academics have discussed the need for a second conference to again help spur legislative and regulatory updates these programs. As a result of these conversations, Congress, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 Explanatory Statement, directed the White House to host a second conference focusing on food, hunger, nutrition, and health. Specifically, the Explanatory Statement directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to convene a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health in 2022, for the purpose of developing a roadmap to end hunger and improve nutrition by 2030.” The Explanatory Statement allocates $2,500,000 to HHS to “support” the conference.

Although the explanatory statements are not usually included in the actual text of appropriations acts, the explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 explains that “the departments and agencies funded in this Act are directed to include all programs, projects, and activities, including those in … this explanatory statement ….”

The Explanatory Statement directs HHS to develop the conference:

“using a whole-of-government approach—in partnership with the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Agriculture, and other Federal agencies—and in consultation with State, territory, local, and Tribal officials, and a diverse group of interested parties from across the country, including anti-hunger, nutrition, and health experts; the private sector; and people with lived experience of hunger and nutrition insecurity.”

Additionally, similar to the five questions Nixon posed to the 1969 Conference attendees, the Explanatory Statement directs the 2022 Conference organizers and attendees to examine:

  • Why hunger and nutrition insecurity persist and how they affect health, including their role in the high prevalence of chronic disease; and
  • Existing cross-departmental strategies and new approaches to improve health by eliminating hunger, reducing the prevalence of chronic disease, and improving access to and consumption of nutritious foods in accordance with Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Ultimately, the Explanatory Statement states that the “conference shall produce a final report detailing its findings and proposed solutions to end hunger and improve nutrition security in the United States by 2030.” Stated differently, Congress requests the White House and HHS to publish a conference report similar to the 1969 Conference report. Congress will likely use the 2022 Conference report as a resource in drafting the Nutrition Title of the 2023 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of legislation that governs most of the United States’ agricultural and food programs. Of all the spending legislated in the Farm Bill, about three quarters goes towards various federal nutrition programs.

Next Steps

Before the conference takes place in September, the explanatory statement directs HHS to “identify current programming that directly or indirectly impacts food and nutrition insecurity and diet related diseases; specific statutory, regulatory, and budgetary barriers to ending hunger and improving nutrition and health in the United States and the Territories; existing examples of coordination mechanisms between Federal agencies; Federal agencies and State, local, and Tribal governments; and all levels of government and program implementers; and additional authorities or resources needed to eliminate hunger and improve nutrition and health.” The explanatory statement directs HHS to report these findings to the Appropriations Committees no later than 120 days after March 9, 2022, the date the Consolidated Appropriations Act was enacted.

In addition to collecting information from government agencies, conference organizers will also collect information from the private sector and from individuals. To share your ideas with the conference organizers, click here.

 

To read more about the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, click here.

To learn more about the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, click here.

To learn more about Consolidated Appropriations Acts and Explanatory Statements, click here.

For more resources on Federal Nutrition Programs, visit the NALC Nutrition Programs Reading Room, here.

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