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Category: US Government

Three Big Things a White House Conference on Nutrition Must Deliver

Image credit: Diego Cambiaso

After more than 50 years, a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger and Health is within our grasp. The first conference in 1969 resulted in some of today’s most critical programs to improve food security and nutrition such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program. Revisiting this pivotal conference gives us an additional opportunity to build upon gains over the last five decades to continue to create conditions for families to thrive. And there is no better place to start than from action at the People’ House.

The next White House Conference, to be held in 2022, provides an opportunity to align government, industry, academia, civil society, health care providers, public health and philanthropy around a roadmap to end hunger and improve nutrition and health.

1,000 Days works every day to create a healthier and more equitable future for all pregnant, birthing, postpartum, and parenting people and their children. We lead the fight to build a strong foundation for mothers, children, and families to thrive. The first 1,000 days from pregnancy to age 2 offer a window of opportunity to create a healthier and more equitable future for all.

What three things should this White House conference deliver to fully realize this opportunity for parents and children?

1.  Unity. The science and interventions known to have the greatest return on investment must be prioritized. We know that poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days can cause irreversible damage to a child’s growing brain, affecting their ability to do well in school and earn a good living—and making it harder for a child and their family to rise out of poverty. It can also set the stage for obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases which can lead to a lifetime of health problems. The government, philanthropy, private sector and civil society together must embrace and unify around the irreputable science that nutrition for the mother during pregnancy, while breastfeeding and the right nutrition through infancy and toddlerhood, is the most impactful, critical time.

2.  Equity. Factors such as the color of our skin or the neighborhood we live in should not affect our health and well-being; however, this is a reality in many communities. Social determinants of health, which are conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play – as well as the chronic stress that comes from issues of inequity, like racism – mean that some families do not have access to the resources and support they need to be healthy and prosper during the first 1,000 days and beyond. In particular, families of color and low-income families are more often overburdened and under-resourced. As a result, there are glaring disparities in the health and well-being of moms and babies from these communities. Addressing inequity in access to healthy and nutritious foods cannot be ignored. We must prioritize interventions that support every family to have an opportunity to be healthy.

3.  Action. There is no time to lose. The last White House conference yielded some of the greatest nutrition programs that have continued to save and enhance lives through generations. A focus on identifying specific actions across various sectors must be built into the conference goals from the start. We must be bold, think big, reach across the aisle and not be afraid do whatever it takes to put families on a better path. The White House conference can convene leaders who have the power and influence to drive action for immediate and long-term benefits to families and children.

We stand ready to support a strong, unifying, equitable and action-focused White House Conference on Nutrition and help serve as a voice for the millions of families whose lives are impacted every day by a lack of access to healthy and nutritious foods during the critical 1,000 days.

The Looming Threat of Malnutrition in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Co-hosted by 1,000 Days, Bread for the World and InterAction, The Looming Threat of Malnutrition in the COVID-19 Pandemic, brought together five speakers from different fields including government, the nutrition community and documentary film, to share their perspectives on how COVID-19 has impacted health and nutrition for women, children, and families globally. The overwhelming consensus: the time to act on addressing dramatically increasing rates of severe malnutrition around the world is now.

The picture is staggering. In many parts of the world, malnutrition related to the pandemic is projected to kill more people, especially children, than the pandemic itself because of COVID-19-related disruptions to food and health systems. Recent estimates show that by 2022, these disruptions could leave an additional 12 million children severely malnourished.

Investing in nutrition can’t wait.

Highlights from the virtual briefing moderated by Jenny Marron, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at InterAction:

Congressman Jim McGovern, co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, spoke to the importance of investing in nutrition now not later so that we do not lose progress. A strong nutrition advocate, McGovern laid out in urgent terms what is at stake: “We know that each day we fail to focus on the threat of malnutrition, that means another child will grow up stunted, a mother will give birth to a malnourished baby…and a family and a community will have a diminished future.” He followed by explaining we know what needs to be done to combat malnutrition and food security and that investments in the health of women and children are in the best interest of us all. View his remarks here.

Skye Fitzgerald, Emmy and Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker, discussed his film Hunger Ward which chronicles the famine in Yemen. He provided a view of what severe malnutrition looks like in the world right now. Watch a clip from his film here.

Karin Lapping, Nutrition Technical Director at FHI Solutions, outlined the causes of malnutrition and the proven solutions we have to save women and children. She explained that poor nutrition affects every aspect of a person’s life, especially in three main areas: education, health, and economics. But we have the solutions, like the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, which is an extremely successful intervention that saves lives, and is easily scalable. Her concluding remarks were straight to the point: “Bottom line, we have to act now. Children are dying and this will continue to happen. It is an ethical, economic, and human remit. We must reinvigorate efforts towards nutrition. The cost is too high not to.”

Asma Lateef, Director at Bread for the World Institute, highlighted the history of U.S. leadership on nutrition and the need for that to continue by saying: “We know that when the U.S. leads, other donors and partners follow. That is crucial.”

Shawn K Baker, Chief Nutritionist at USAID, provided closing remarks, emphasizing that, while malnutrition is a major threat to the health and wellbeing of many children around the world, it is a problem for which there are numerous, cost-effective solutions. Additionally, if mothers, infants and young children have access to quality nutrition in the 1,000-day window, he emphasized, “we have locked in their ability to survive and to thrive, and that is irreversible.” The United States has demonstrated consistent commitment to ending the crisis of maternal and child malnutrition, even amidst the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and this leadership is crucial in ensuring the U.S., other partner governments, civil society and the private sector can work together and mobilize resources to have the greatest possible impact. Continued U.S. leadership is critical in improving the nutrition of mothers, infants, and young children— “we know it’s possible, we know it saves lives, and we know it ensures their future.”

Urgent investment in proven, cost-effective, and scalable nutrition solutions is necessary to address the crisis of maternal and child malnutrition and end preventable child deaths. The time to act is now.

Find a recording of the full event here. And for more, read our brief on severe malnutrition and COVID here.