Preventing Childhood Obesity

White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

By: Nancy Trout, MD, MPH

For the first time in over 50 years, the White House convened a conference of stakeholders with a goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity in the U.S. by 2030 – the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. The last White House Conference was held in 1969 and helped influence the country’s food policy agenda. Addressing this fundamental social determinant of health will help to decrease both hunger and diet-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, as well as reduce health disparities across the population.

The scope of the White House Conference efforts is spread across five pillars that invite action by a range of individuals, communities, and businesses:

  1. Improve food access and affordability
  2. Integrate nutrition and health
  3. Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices
  4. Support physical activity for all
  5. Enhance nutrition and food security research

Connecticut Children’s and Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA) held a stakeholder convening in Hartford to solicit ideas for next steps for Connecticut. The gathering included representation across a broad swath of public and private organizations. A sampling of the calls to action to help families in Connecticut include:

  • making the child tax credit permanent,
  • expanding access to free school meals and both school and urban gardens,
  • streamlining the enrollment process for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits,
  • providing incentives to attract healthier food retail outlets to underserved areas, and
  • leveraging government agencies to expand coverage for nutrition-related services and interventions.

In addition, Connecticut state representatives have convened a Food is Medicine Task Force to advocate for actions that will integrate food and nutrition into healthcare. Food insecurity – defined by the U. S. Department of Agriculture as the lack of consistent access to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life – is associated with both costly and deadly preventable diseases. Food is Medicine incorporates a spectrum of services, programs or interventions that address the link between food insecurity, nutritional status, and chronic diseases. These programs, policies and interventions are designed to promote nutrition-related health and include medically tailored food and meals, fruit and vegetable prescription/voucher programs, and maximizing population-level anti-hunger programs such as SNAP and WIC.

Connecticut Children’s Start Childhood Off Right Program (SCOR) program, with a Cigna Healthier Kids for Our Future grant and in collaboration with Hartford Food System, screens for food insecurity in Connecticut Children’s Emergency Department and provides vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables to families with a positive screen. Families are able to redeem the vouchers at a Hartford Food System Mobile Market stationed at Connecticut Children’s on Mondays and Thursdays. During warmer months, the market is outside the ED entrance. During colder months, it is inside the hospital by the first floor elevators. The food insecurity screening is scheduled to expand to Connecticut Children’s Primary Care South location in 2023. The program reinforces the concept of Food is Medicine by promoting healthy food choices and food access as a basis for health.

It is critical for our local communities, state and nation to address hunger, nutrition and health. The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health is a step in the right direction. So is Connecticut’s Food is Medicine Task Force. We look forward to both generating strong solutions to help children and families eat well, stay active, and lead healthier lives.

Learn more about Connecticut Children’s Start Childhood Off Right program here.

Nancy Trout, MD, MPH, is a Primary Care Pediatrician and Co-Director of Start Childhood Off Right, which is a childhood obesity prevention initiative of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

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