Prioritizing Young Children in Federal Hunger and Nutrition Recommendations

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In September 2022, the Administration hosted the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, a pivotal event that occurred the first (and last) time more than 50 years ago in 1969. That event influenced this country’s food policy agenda for the next 50 years.  This year’s conference shaped the Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy for Hunger, Nutrition and Health, which outlines four pillars of recommendations and action towards the goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 so fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases—while reducing related health disparities.

Improving Food Access and Affordability for Children and Families

A key pillar of the Conference and the National Strategy is improving food access and affordability.  Some of the strategies for Federal attention for improving access for children and families to federal food, human services, and health assistance programs, include expanding  benefits (such as Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), and SNAP) to more children and underserved populations; increasing access to free school meals, and making it easier for eligible individuals to access federal food, human services, and health assistance programs.

Child Care Missing from the National Strategy

While the conference and the national strategy focused on many systemic issues that need be improved, child care was not specifically highlighted as a critical place where children receive meals in the same way as K-12 education and free school lunch programs are featured throughout the National Strategy.

Comments from Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA) following the White House Conference expressed concern that the National Strategy does not elevate child care as settings that have considerable influence on the nutrition and health of young children. In many cases, young children receive most of their daily meals and snacks in child care settings through the federal Child Care and Adult Food Program (CACFP), which saw enrollment decrease significantly nationwide as a result of the pandemic. This drop in CACFP enrollment comes after years of declining family child care enrollment prior to 2020.  Ahead of the White House Conference, CCAoA submitted comments focused on strengthening CACFP and addressing barriers that prevent widespread participation in the program, and amplified the role that Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agencies play as community partners in this work and strengthening other federal food programs to eliminate food insecurity among child care providers themselves.  Read More Attention Needed on Child Care Following White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health to learn more about how CCAoA encourages the use of existing resources to inform national policies that will increase CACFP implementation and access, such as the story maps CCAoA  created in collaboration with Nemours Children’s Health to help identify underserved communities that would benefit from expanding child care participation in CACFP.

Increased attention on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life

In advance of the White House conference, early childhood advocates also worked to elevate the first 1,000 days (from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday) as a Federal priority. The National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers (NCIT) Steering Committee submitted the Open Letter to the Nation on Infants and Toddlers to the White House to reinforce policies needs for improved maternal and child health, equitable policy implementation and more.  A special American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) series with 1,000 Days, an Initiative of FHI Solutions, scheduled for publication in October, also pre-released three papers to begin bringing together the present state of the science, research needs, and a policy agenda for optimal maternal and child nutrition in the United States, including: Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days in the United States: A Federal Perspective, by Dr. Heather Hamner, CDC, which reinforces the role of early childhood care and education centers to enhance nutrition security for our infants and toddlers.

Call to Action for a Philanthropy

The National Strategy includes a call to action for society as a whole, including recommendations for how philanthropy can support federal hunger, nutrition and health goals such as: supporting pilots that foster collaboration between food service programs at K-12 schools to synergize efforts around workforce training and food procurement; supporting pilots in underserved communities—including Tribal communities, rural, and Native Hawaiian communities—that boost local food systems as an economic driver in communities; and supporting research studies and efforts to bolster and diversify the nutrition science pipeline.  The AJPH Series paper, From Evidence to Action: Uniting Around Nutrition in the 1000-Day Window, by Blythe Thomas, 1,000 Days, encourages philanthropy to incorporate nutrition into early childhood logic models.

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Photo credit: Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

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