The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: A practicing pediatrician’s comments

Let’s grow and eat what we grow!

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is a national effort to reinvent all of our nation’s nutrition, hunger, and health policies with inclusive input from stakeholders. Briefly, the goals are to:

Improve food access and affordability

Integrate nutrition and health

Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices

Support physical activity for all

Enhance nutrition and food security research

In 2021, former USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Dean Dariush Mozaffarian, and former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, co-proposed the idea of a White House Conference Hunger, Nutrition & Health.

On May 4th, President Biden formally announced the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

This is a first-time-in-50-year historic effort to reinvent our nation’s policies related to food with inclusive input from public stakeholders.

PPA, with thousands of physicians and a board comprised of two pediatricians, a pediatric psychiatrist, a cardiologist and two surgeons can see the value of this conference to all of our patients.

Thus PPA shared the comment link on social media channels, reaching thousands of physicians and patients and other stakeholders

As a co-founder of PPA and a pediatrician , a longtime volunteer for wellness in her community’s schools, and a volunteer teacher for organic gardening, Dr Marion Mass submitted the following

  1. We need enriching foods to be available in areas that can be considered food deserts. We need opportunities to exercise, and to meditate for mental health to be available in areas that are economically disadvantaged.

It would be best if this were to be achieved with those who live in those areas to become entrepreneurs and small business owners themselves, and to create sustainable jobs for others.  

I suggest that for any US citizen to make a donation, either of money, tangible resources or time to a start-up business or school in an opportunity zone ( a tax credit for this donation be applied to the donor.

Imagine if a Garden center, or a lumber company in a more advantaged zip code is incentivized to donate products to create a meditation garden, a yoga center, a walking path, an organic food repository in an opportunity zone?  This is a win for everyone.  It will create connections between communities in a very personal way.  It will lift up those hungering for opportunity.  It will create jobs all while promoting health.

  • We need to empower schools to utilize local resources when possible to get local good nutritional products into schools.  Local products should be given equal opportunity to sell to public schools and override existing food contracts that work with corporate vendors.
  • We need to allow and empower schools to reduce food waste by allowing them and encouraging them to compost for their own gardens, to donate whole fruits that were given out for school meals but untouched by student mouths.  It was a wonderful idea that in school lunches, a piece of fruit or a veggie must be given out.  However, much of this food is sadly wasted.  If an apple or an orange were untouched on a lunch tray, it ought to be possible to gather it and donate to local food pantries.
  • Schools need to be teaching about the history and culture of food and gardening within their history, literature and other classes as well as in home economics and nutrition classes.  For example, the Spanish dish of Paella came into existence in the following way:  During the Spanish Inquisition, those that had been forced to convert to Catholicism were still fearful, as many were ostracized, or even executed.  They cooked paella over an open fire, a dish utilizing pork, pork fat and shellfish, items forbidden in other religions.  While a shameful epoch in the Catholic church, knowing about the dish and even eating it or tasting it as part of a class would be a more enriching experience than a mere lecture.

Many foods that are international and quite delicious ought to be a part of home economics classes.  Mexican Tamales, Indian Pulao, Persian kuku, Puerto Rican black beans and rice, Moroccan couscous, Ethiopian groundnut stew are all complex dishes with plant based ingredients and quite healthful.  Students being taught about the rich history of food and origins of ingredients of these foods would not only improve their health but increase pride in individual student’s cultures.

  • Enriched funding for cooperative extensions and agriculture based colleges that help create gardens in schools and communities, and provide teaching in these gardens.  (This idea is from Tara Meritt a primary care and sports medicine physician from near Athens Georgia, home of UGA)
  • We need to have an investigation to discover how social media sites and apps might have algorithms that are distorting body image leading to children and teens unhealthy perceptions of their bodies, and unrealistic expectations of how they believe they are ‘supposed to look’.  The same sites need to be investigated to ensure that gentle healthy habits and messages are represented, and unhealthy habits are discouraged.  

    This same method needs to be employed on social media with respect to parenting.           Sadly, in America, so much of parenting has become a contest of sorts, with many feeling as though they are not measuring up.  Parents need to be empowered to know that they can succeed as parents without feeling the shame and guilt of not being ‘perfect parents’.  As a pediatrician, this is something mothers discuss with me all the time, but I rarely see discussed.  Especially mothers feel as though they are not as good as the perfect mom they see on social media.  Algorithms regarding this phenomenon must be explored.

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