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Biden's summit aimed at tackling food insecurity and diet-related disease in the U.S.


The White House held a daylong summit today aimed at tackling hunger and diet-related disease. The event comes at a time when about 1 in 10 households in the U.S. is food insecure and diet-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, are a top cause of death and disability now. NPR's Allison Aubrey was at the conference and joins us now. Hey, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hey, good to be here.

CHANG: Good to have you. OK. So President Biden announced a goal to end hunger by 2030. But, I mean, with so much food insecurity in this country, what exactly is his plan to get there?

AUBREY: Yeah. Well, you know, at a time when inflation has brought much higher food prices, pandemic-era benefits have diminished, more people rely on cheap calories that may fill their bellies but don't really nourish. And that's really part of food insecurity, Ailsa, I mean, not being able to afford nutritious food. So the administration announced some initiatives aimed at improving access. Speaking at the conference today, President Biden told the crowd his goal is to make healthy school meals free - completely free for all children.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My plan, as was already referenced, would make at least 9 million more children eligible for free school meals, a major first step to free meals for every single student. We're also supporting schools so they can cook more meals from scratch, purchase more food from local farmers and ranchers.

AUBREY: Which he says will help support local economies. Now, the administration will need Congress to fund more of these free school meals. But, you know, the case I hear from nutrition public health experts, many doctors, is that this would not only help reduce hunger and reduce absenteeism in school, make kids more ready to learn, it could also help prevent food-related chronic disease down the line.

CHANG: OK, so prevention is a goal here, but what about treating people who are already struggling with diet-related diseases?

AUBREY: There is a lot of momentum to integrate food and nutrition into the delivery of health care. To that end, the administration is calling for pilot programs to cover things like medically tailored meals for people with diet-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, also expanding Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries' access to nutrition counseling. I spoke to one of the panelists today, Sachin Jain. He's a physician. He's CEO of SCAN Health Plan. That's a Medicare Advantage plan.

SACHIN JAIN: I think we have to increasingly, you know, start to see food as an intervention that can meaningfully, you know, change people's health outcomes, particularly if they face chronic diseases like diabetes or, you know, hypertension or heart disease.

AUBREY: There's accumulating evidence also, for example, that diet and lifestyle interventions can help reverse or improve Type 2 diabetes. Today, Kaiser Permanente, a large health care organization based in California, announced a $50 million commitment to expand its Food Is Medicine initiatives. These include medically tailored meals, as I just mentioned, produce prescription - so literally prescribing fruits and vegetables to patients as a way to make them better - all aimed at curbing diet-related disease.

CHANG: These all sound like good plans. I'm curious, was there any discussion today about what the companies that market and package our foods can do to help with all this?

AUBREY: Part of the strategy is a proposal to develop front-of-packaging labels on foods we buy in the grocery store and a new updated healthy label or healthy symbol to kind of give people information they need to make healthy choices. The FDA says these labels can act as a quick signal to consumers. It's all part of a strategy to reduce diet-related disease.

CHANG: That is NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thank you, Allison.

AUBREY: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.