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.