The State of Nutrition in America 2021

On November 2, 2021, the Senate Agriculture Committee heard testimony from experts about the State of Nutrition in America in 2021. The panel identified many problems and suggested solutions ranging from calling for more research to putting constraints on SNAP benefits. AFA would suggest adding one simple proxy goal that could potentially get everyone across all agencies working in lockstep toward solving the country’s nutrition crisis, and that is: prioritizing fiber-rich foods in federal farm policy.

During the session, panelists and members of Congress discussed how farm policy is linked to chronic diseases caused by poor nutrition. Senator Booker, to his credit, made a point that AFA has been calling out since our inception: that the USDA recommends half our plates be fruits and veg, but only a tiny fraction of farm spending supports these crops.

Panelists Identify Problems ✓

Angela Odems-Young drew a connection between dietary fiber deficiency and chronic disease, pointing out that Black Americans suffer the most from the lack of this critical nutrient in readily available food supplies.

Most research has found that Black Americans are more likely to have inadequate intakes of nutrients associated with a lower risk of chronic disease and poor overall dietary quality than Hispanic and White Americans. These findings persist across all income categories and regardless of food assistance participation.

Given their traditional dietary pattern, Black Americans’ suboptimal intakes of vegetables and legumes and their associated dietary components are particularly concerning. For example, findings from a recent analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reported that nonHispanic blacks had the lowest mean intake of dietary fiber compared to other racial/ethnic groups, far below the levels recommended in national dietary guidance.

Panelists Propose Solutions

The recommendations put forth by the experts in this hearing centered on

  • improving research,
  • increasing education,
  • incentivizing SNAP participants to choose foods more wisely.

However, we didn’t hear anyone calling to prioritize fiber-rich foods across all farm programs, offer transition programs to farmers to diversify into producing fiber-rich foods.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian focused on research, education, leadership, and coordination

(1) Advancing nutrition science and research
(2) Incorporating Food as Medicine into healthcare
(3) Leveraging our federal nutrition programs
(4) Catalyzing business innovation and entrepreneurship
(5) Expanding nutrition education
(6) Creating federal leadership, structure, and authority for food and nutrition policy coordination

Dr. Angela Odoms-Young recommended aiming for equitable access and affordability

* continue prioritizing nutrition security with a lens on racial equity … the time to leverage new policy and programmatic efforts to decrease food-related hardship in black communities and increase opportunities for better access and affordability is now.
* funding to support pilot studies to test and evaluate strategies to ensure that we bring science-based solutions to scale and elevate interventions that consider individuals’ and families’ real-world circumstances.

Dr. Donald Warne suggested aiming for locally-cultivated foods and subsidizing healthier options, among other things

1. Improving existing food programs;
2. Promoting breast feeding and early childhood nutrition;
3. Promoting food sovereignty and increasing access to traditional foods;
4. Expanding locally-cultivated foods; and
5. Taxing unhealthy foods and subsidizing healthier options.

Dr. Stover suggests restoring trust in food science and customizing food delivery based on culture and diverse biological needs

Our society needs help improving health outcomes and re-establishing trust in the science of nutrition and all of agriculture … policies and practices must be informed by the best available science, and nutrition and food needs must be based on people’s specific biology and physiology, cultural preferences, transparency regarding scientific certainty and current health needs as they change over a lifetime. And, finally, it requires us to bolster citizen education to bring consumers along with the evolving field to earn their trust, ultimately allowing them to make the best decisions for themselves—benefitting the whole population in the aggregate.

It is also critical to restore trust across the entire food value chain, from producers to consumers. To meet these critical expectations of the food system, all actors and players in the food system must have a seat at the table to ensure collaboration and cooperation, while keeping rigorous and transparent science and the goals of eliminating hunger while advancing human, environmental and economic health, as paramount. Land-grant universities were created for this purpose. They are publicly funded with academic freedom to serve the public interests, and they have the capacity, knowledge, relationships and expertise to be responsive to societal needs and solve problems through science.

Dr. Angela Rachidi of AEI suggested imposing restrictions on SNAP recipients, as well as increasing incentives for healthier options

  1. Make improving diet quality a core SNAP objective through legislative action and create a new Deputy Administrator to oversee a nutrition strategy.
  2. Eliminate sugary beverages from the list of items that can be purchased with SNAP benefits. Consider restricting additional items that have no nutritional value.
  3. As part of an approach that implements restrictions, increase funding for incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables. Imagine if the 25 percent increase in SNAP benefits in 2021 could only be used on fruits and vegetables.
  4. Strengthen SNAP retailer standards to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables at SNAP retailers.
  5. Better align SNAP and Medicaid and focus efforts on nutrition improvement.
  6. Use technology to increase the sharing of data on food purchases and to better inform SNAP participants about healthy eating.

AFA suggests

a proxy goal that will focus & align efforts across all federal agencies:

Prioritize naturally fiber-rich foods across all USDA programs and policies from production to distribution, and pay special attention to making these foods accessible, desirable, and affordable in underserved communities.

Agriculture Fairness Alliance

How this proxy goal can play out in the Farm Bill:

  • Farm Bill Title I: ensure that lentil and chickpea growers enjoy at least as much revenue protection as corn and soy producers.
  • Farm Bill Title II: remove the requirement that 50% of EQIP funds go to livestock, and instead, use those funds helping food crop farms diversify and focus on growing soil fertility, natural pollinator habitats, and biodiversity. Revert EQIP to its original purpose of helping small operations ‘do the right thing’ for the environment.
  • Farm Bill Title V: Make sure that credit is more favorable and available to fruit, nut, and veg cooperatives as it is to commodity crop corporate farmers.
  • Farm Bill Title X: Fully fund the Office of Urban Agriculture, as well as the LFPP and FMPP programs. Lower requirements for matching funds, and offer assistance to those who don’t have grant writing resources.

Panelists & their Statements

  1. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian Dean, Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy Tufts University Boston, MA … Download Testimony
  2. Dr. Angela Odoms-Young Associate Professor, Director, Food and Nutrition Education in Communities Program and NYS Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell UniversityIthaca, NY … Download Testimony
  3. Dr. Donald Warne Associate Dean, Director, Indians into Medicine (INMED) & Public Health Programs School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND … Download Testimony
  4. Dr. Patrick Stover Dean and Vice Chancellor for Agriculture and Life SciencesTexas A&M University College Station, TX … Download Testimony
  5. Dr. Angela RachidiSenior Fellow and Rowe ScholarAmerican Enterprise Institute (AEI)Chicago, IL … Download Testimony