The Biden government has launched a new strategy to end hunger in the US by 2030 through the expansion of benefits such as free school meals and food stamps.
One in 10 households struggled to feed their families in 2021 due to poverty – an extraordinary level of food insecurity in the richest country in the world which has barely budged in the past two decades amid deepening economic inequalities and welfare cuts.
The plan, published on Tuesday, also aims to cut diet-related diseases by increasing access to healthy food and exercise as new data shows that more than 35% of people in 19 states and two territories are obese – more the double the number of states in 2018 – while one in 10 Americans have diabetes. It includes proposals to reform food packaging and voluntary salt and sugar reduction targets for the food industry, as well as working to expand Medicaid and Medicare access to obesity counseling and nutrition.
The national strategy comes a day before the White House hosts the first conference on hunger, nutrition and health in 53 years. Since then food security has improved but remains stubbornly high, while the consumption of processed unhealthy foods and diet-related diseases have increased.
It includes multiple ambitious proposals but few concrete measures, as the plans depend on securing support from a polarized Congress which so far this year has refused to extend the child tax credit and universal free school meals – both of which led to historic improvements in food security in the wake of the pandemic.
The strategy states that the administration is committed to “pushing for Congress to permanently extend the expanded, fully refunded child tax credit and expanded Earned Income Tax Credit… to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; close the Medicaid coverage gap; invest in affordable, high-quality child care; and expand the Housing Choice Voucher”.
Food inequalities are caused by structural and systemic racial and economic inequalities. Unequal access to affordable healthy food is disproportionately harder for people of color, Indigenous communities, rural dwellers and low income households due to structural disparities in access to healthcare, decent housing, transportation, educational and economic opportunities – all of which increase the risk of hunger and diet-related diseases.
The last food conference hosted by President Richard Nixon in 1969 was a pivotal moment in American food policy that led to the expansion of food stamps and gave rise to the Women, Infants and Children program that today provides parenting advice, breastfeeding support and food assistance to the mothers of half the babies born each year.