A Concerted Focus on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health Will Help Ensure Well-Being

Health and Well-Being Matter

Health and Well-Being Matter is the monthly blog of the Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

The recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health renewed national attention and inspired action to end hunger and reduce the prevalence of chronic disease in the United States by 2030 — with emphasis on enhancing equitable opportunities for healthy eating and increased physical activity. Realizing these goals requires a far-reaching, cross-sector mobilization of efforts — what the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health [PDF - 795 KB] refers to as “a whole-of-government and whole-of-America approach” to these challenges. That charge acknowledges that the way forward is found across all sectors of society and through organizations collectively working to foster equity and eliminate disparities — especially in the areas of hunger, nutrition, physical activity, and chronic disease.

As home of the Healthy People initiative, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, and the National Youth Sports Strategy, ODPHP is heavily invested in this cause. It could not be more imperative for the nation. We’re also uniquely positioned to help further the necessary efforts in partnership with many communities inside and outside of government that support better nutrition and increased physical activity.

We can only achieve the greatest impact if we intentionally expand our dialogue and further coordinate action. This is especially important in addressing those inequities that contribute to disparities in accessing nutritious foods and opportunities to be physically active.

Social determinants of health play a critical role in our overall well-being. As I’ve written on multiple occasions, health doesn’t belong solely to the realm of public health or health care — rather, we find opportunities for health and well-being in every aspect of our daily lives.

Policymakers, private industry, educators, and community service organizations — to name just a few — must be active participants to make real progress. Everyone from individual people to the largest corporations and public organizations can make a commitment to the effort to eliminate hunger and improve the health of the nation. As detailed on health.gov, this list includes:

  • The food industry (including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, restaurants, and delivery companies)
  • The health care industry (including insurance companies, health systems, and providers)
  • Fitness companies (including outdoor recreational organizations and athletic equipment and apparel makers)
  • Advertising and marketing companies
  • Technology companies
  • The transportation sector (including infrastructure developers, mobility service providers, public transit, and charter companies)
  • Nonprofit organizations (including advocacy, consumer, and public health groups)
  • Philanthropic organizations
  • Trade associations
  • State, local, territorial, and tribal governments
  • Schools and universities
  • Community-based and neighborhood organizations

And more! By “everyone”, we mean everyone. All hands are called for. As we engage across these sectors, we must be especially deliberate in including perspectives and solutions from communities and individuals that have lived experience with these challenges. Their ideas are critical to success. They should not only have a place at the table where needs are identified, problems debated, and solutions proposed — they should also have empowered voices to effect change.

Given that the pandemic further exposed the depth and breadth of inequities in social determinants, there’s a new and urgent awareness to more fully and systematically enhance the vital conditions that ensure both individual and collective well-being. It’s an urgency that we haven’t known before. We need to capitalize on that urgency in this moment.

As I write this, I keep thinking about the Closing Plenary Session of the White House Conference. If you haven’t watched it, I urge you to. It clearly summarized all that the Conference sought to achieve, and the session brought out the voices of those who are continuing — and may yet complete — the work underway. At that session, Avani Rai — a Healthy Living Advocate, National 4-H Council Member, and one of many youth participants — eloquently reminded us: “We don’t have a quantity problem in our country. We have a quality problem in our country.”

For me, that sentiment — quality notwithstanding quantity — drives to the heart of what’s before us. We have the tools and the resources to end hunger, improve access to nutritious foods, provide space for increased physical activity, and make enormous strides in reducing chronic disease. But resources must be marshalled equitably and organized intelligently to ensure success. It’s really not a matter of whether we can achieve these things — but rather if we have the will to.

Another message from the Conference that sticks with me, also courtesy of Ms. Rai: “We live in a country where hunger absolutely does not need to be a problem.” She’s right. Hunger doesn’t need to be a problem. The same could be said of rampant poor nutrition and lack of adequate physical activity. As detailed in the Current Federal Programming and Coordination Efforts Related to Food and Nutrition Insecurity and Diet-Related Diseases [PDF - 744 KB], many efforts are already underway. But as is readily apparent in this report and by the overwhelming need across the nation, these efforts are only the beginning.

Ms. Rai’s words reflect a deep understanding of the issues and the belief — the optimism — that we can do better. To hear such insight and optimism from our nation’s youth gives me hope. Her words convey for me the sense that we may be on the cusp of breaking through. She, and many others like her who have been working on these issues from such a young age, have also witnessed these challenges firsthand. They’ve been moved to action by what they’ve experienced. They understand what’s at stake and what’s possible. We should all share in their understanding and perspective — and we can do better.

If we hear the message from those who’ve experienced these challenges, engage the broadest coalition to effect change, and work collaboratively in our efforts, we can meet the goals espoused at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health — and promote greater health and well-being for all.

To learn more about how you or your organization can commit to end hunger, help reduce chronic disease, and improve healthy eating and physical activity, please visit the Conference Commitments page on health.gov.

Yours in health,

Paul Reed, MD
Rear Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health
Director, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

In Officio Salutis — In the Service of Health

Categories: health.gov Blog, Spotlight