President Biden said the White House hopes to end hunger by the end of the decade and reduce the burden of disease-related health issues. Hunger, Nutrition and Health Conference— the first of its kind in More than 50 years.
The announcement comes on the heels of historically high prices that make it difficult for Americans to access nutritious foods needed to stay healthy – in August, food prices were 11.4% higher than they were in August 2021, The US Department of Agriculture reported.
“The National Strategy recognizes the critical role that nutrition plays in our health and our health care system, and it recognizes that … we have to give families the tools to keep them healthy,” Biden said at the conference.
In 2021, around 13.5 million American families They faced food insecurity, meaning that they were not able to get enough food or were not sure if they would be able to get the food they needed. Not only do these Americans experience hunger as a health issue, research has shown that lower food security is linked to Higher risk of developing some chronic diseasesincluding cancer, asthma and diabetes.
Here’s what experts have to say about hunger and its links to health, as well as people who may face poor health as a result of limited access to nutritious foods, and in the face of inflated prices, whether Biden’s plan is enough to address the problem.
Hunger and food insecurity are dangerous to our health in general, but the consequences of not eating a nutritious diet reach far beyond an empty stomach. People who struggle to buy the food they need often end up buying food that is less nutritious, either because it’s cheaper or because it’s more satiating in general.
Filling your cart with healthy foods usually costs more than a cart full of highly processed foods. Erica Kenny, ScD, MPHassistant professor of public health nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said health.
Not only are healthy foods more expensive in general, Kenny explained, but fruits and vegetables are also more expensive per calorie, which means you have to buy and consume more of them until you feel full.
“If your goal is really to make sure that you prevent yourself and your kids from getting hungry, you might choose the things that are less nutritious per calorie,” she said. “You’d have to buy a lot of fruits and vegetables to get the same kind of calories.”
Since more nutritious foods are often too expensive for many people—especially with food prices rising due to inflation—it’s not unusual for consumers to trade in less nutritious foods in order to raise a dollar a bit. The result is malnutrition that can lead to health risksincluding high blood pressure or obesity.
If a person is hungry or unsure if they can feed themselves or their family, they may also experience high levels of stress which can create further health problems.
Psychologically, these pressures may be leads us to gluttony on certain things when we are able to store things that can be stored and that may be more energy-dense, or store” Sean Cash, Ph.D.Professor of Global Nutrition at the Bergstrom Foundation in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University health. Physiologically, there is evidence to suggest that our bodies also react to these stresses and changes in ways that may be detrimental to our health in the long run.
Since healthy foods are more difficult to access for people who are food insecure, significant health disparities often arise. One example of this might be in diabetes mortality rates based on location, Sagar Dojani, MD, PhD, MSc in Public HealthMD, associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, explains.
Dr.. Dogani published a study In September, which found that between 1999 and 2018, the death rate from diabetes was significantly higher for people in rural areas than in urban areas. Moreover, over the past two decades, the rate of people dying of diabetes in rural areas has remained relatively unchanged, although it has decreased in urban areas.
The study didn’t look at the exact reasons behind this, but Dr. Dujani said nutrition and food insecurity likely play a major role.
“there is a lot of [rural] Counties that have food deserts or food deserts, have less access to fresh vegetables and fresh fruits, and have fewer opportunities to get quality food,” said Dr. Dujani. health.
Lack of access to healthy foods—whether due to price or physical distance—can make it more difficult for people to avoid obesity, which represents risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
“There was a focus on the phrase here -[to] We talk about food security, not just food security. “Thinking beyond calories,” Cash said.
Cash explained that unlike other things that people can cut back on in times of economic hardship, food is not one of those things. When wages do not keep pace with the cost of food prices, it puts families in the position of having to buy cheaper and more satisfying food, as well as potentially visiting charitable food organizations. But these organizations not always Kenny said it makes the most nutritious foods, too.
With limited options for individuals, Biden announced a partnership with charities and private companies to tackle the problem of food insecurity and the chronic disease that often follows it. Over 100 different organizations It has pledged more than $8 billion to fight hunger through donations to charities or its nutrition programs.
Biden added that there are other efforts by the White House in recent years that could address food insecurity as well. for him tax credit for childrenBiden — included in the 2021 U.S. bailout — has argued that the burden of grocery shopping for families should be somewhat reduced, and should be expanded. This can be doubly beneficial, as many parents often skip meals on their own for this They give to their childrenCash explained.
Biden also referred to Updated allowances for SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits Which was supposed to better reflect the cost of living in 2022. Those changes took effect on Saturday.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has Suggest a change Foods that can be classified as healthy, in line with the Biden conference and the larger goal of “helping consumers improve dietary patterns and diet to help reduce the burden of chronic disease and promote health equity.”
Although Cash and Kenny say the Biden plan is certainly a step in the right direction, the idea that we can end food insecurity and the chronic health inequalities it causes by the end of the decade seems far fetched.
“Every little will help. I think long-term food insecurity and hunger are just one symptom of what happens when people are poor,” Kenny said. “It won’t go away if people can’t earn a living wage.”
Even with the increase in SNAP benefits and the possibility of extending the child tax credit, inflation is still a huge burden on people’s budgets. It may not calm down soon.
“If we are to promote a healthy lifestyle, which includes nutrition, high-quality food, and less processed foods, then inflation can be a major barrier for people to access all of these things,” said Dr. Dujani.
Dr. Dujani added that another way inflation creates obstacles to accessing healthy food is by raising gas prices – which means people may not be able to travel long distances to visit groceries. It may also increase the cost of drugs, and these two challenges may exacerbate chronic disease, especially if inflation continues to be a problem for months or years to come.
Cash explained that another important aspect of food insecurity and nutrition is changing public opinion. Federal programs will certainly help, but not if people can’t get used to eating healthy.
“Some of this [is] Changes in standards, what used to be considered good food and how we’ve been talking about communicating what is good food — marketing is driving a lot of that conversation,” Cash said. “This often sets standards in ways that make it difficult for people to possibly make the best choices nutritionally.”
While many factors associated with healthy eating are out of an individual’s control—due to issues with price, physical access, marketing campaigns, or other factors—there are some things people can do in the meantime to try to eat as healthy as possible while on a tight budget. .
Kenny explained that canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are good options because they are often less expensive than fresh options, and beans can be a good alternative to meat, as they are a good source of protein. But even these things may not be feasible in people’s diet when they are faced with food insecurity, and that’s okay.
“At the end of the day, food insecure people need to feed themselves and need to feed their families,” Kenny said. “So these are all things that people can do, but it’s still very difficult to do in practice.”
The government’s attempt to solve the problem – or at least, make a concerted effort to address it for the first time in decades – should shed greater light on the issue of food insecurity, and the millions of people affected by it. Framing the issue of hunger as a medical issue can take the conversation in a more productive direction, especially as officials reinforce the fact that food insecurity is more than just hunger, it’s also a matter of health and death.
“I really liked the food as it’s a medical focus for the conference as well,” Kenny said. “Having people think about it more directly in terms of how it affects health and healthcare costs, and linking it to what’s going on in the doctor’s office, might be a kind of solution to getting people to invest a little bit more in changing he-she.”
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