With Americans increasingly unhealthy because of the highly processed foods we eat, there’s more talk about the need for quality over quantity of food.
A Senate rules committee hearing on April 28 on eradicating hunger touched on many of the points customary to conversations about double-digit food insecurity rates in the U.S.: how to strengthen public benefit programs, the underlying need to reduce poverty, and ways to loop business, technology, and clinicians into potential solutions. But anyone listening closely would have heard multiple references to nutrition and the critical need to make nutritious foods available to low-income Americans, threading through the calls for higher wages, improved program enrollments, and a second White House conference on hunger. (The first, in 1969, led to the establishment of the national school breakfast and summer feeding programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, and what’s now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.)
That healthy foods are key to human health is not news. In fact, it’s the whole basis for the WIC program, which was created over 50 years ago to address malnutrition and its effects on pregnant and nursing women, infants, and young children, including preeclampsia, anemia, failure to thrive, and impeded cognitive development.
In theory, at least, nutritious foods are also integral to the mission of SNAP and school meals. Although, according to Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and lead author of a new article on the relevance of nutrition security, historically, the two have been considered “two different problems with two different interventions.” Add to that years of political posturing around benefits programs and a broader societal shift towards processed foods—not just in food boxes handed out at pantries to low-income families in need, but everywhere in Americans’ high fat/low fiber diets—and “We now have a population in which [over] 70 percent of adults are overweight or obese,” said Mozaffarian. As a result, it’s become imperative for government “to pull nutrition into the center of policy,” defined by his article “as having consistent access, availability, and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being and prevent (and if needed, treat) disease.”