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Redefining 'healthy' on the agenda at White House’s 1st hunger, nutrition and health update meeting

Monthly update meetings will be held following last month's historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to “maintain momentum from the conference.”
Logo courtesy: The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

Updating the definition of the word "healthy" on food packaging was among the topics discussed Wednesday during the first monthly update meeting following last month's historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

Grocery retail leaders, government officials, academics, and activists from across the country came together for the livestreamed conference. The gathering was the first event like it in more than 50 years.

The conference kicked off work toward the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to end hunger, reduce diet-related diseases in the U.S. by 2030, and close the gap for families struggling to afford food. An $8 billion public-private commitment was announced to help achieve the goal. 

Dr. Susan Mayne, the director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Perrie Briskin, policy advisor at Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) spoke at Wednesday's update meeting.

Much was discussed, including the national strategy on hunger, nutrition and health pillars which are: improve food access and affordability; integrate nutrition and health; empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices; support physical activity for all; and enhance nutrition and food security research. But one of the highlights was a discussion of the proposed rule to update the definition of “healthy.”

“The national strategy includes updating the definition of the ‘healthy’ nutrient content claim that consumers can see on the front of food packages. The definition is being updated to align with current nutrition science and the dietary guidelines for Americans,” Mayne said earlier this month at the 45th National Food Policy Conference.

On Wednesday, she reported that 75% of people have dietary patterns low in vegetables, fruits and dairy, 63% exceed the limit for added sugars, 77% exceed the limit for saturated fat, and 90% exceed the chronic disease risk reduction limits for sodium.

Mayne said current “healthy” criteria are no longer consistent with nutrition science and federal dietary guidance, including the dietary guidelines for Americans, nor the updated nutrition facts label.

“Current dietary guidelines focus on the importance of healthy dietary patterns and the food groups that comprise them, the type of fat in the diet rather than the total amount of fat consumed and the amount of sodium and added sugars in the diet. The proposed definition is consistent with this focus,” Mayne said earlier this month.

Mayne said the government is working to develop a "healthy" symbol to go along with the new definition to help consumers in their shopping. 

. “We know that most people’s eating patterns do not align with current dietary recommendations so we believe updating the ‘healthy’ claim and having a symbol could help improve eating patterns,” she said.

The post-conference update meetings will take place monthly in efforts to “maintain momentum from the conference,” said Laura Carroll, policy advisor for rural, agriculture and nutrition.

 

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