In late September 2022, the White House hosted its second conference on hunger, health, and nutrition. The first event was held more than 50 years ago, but it put into motion many of the programs we know today, such as “school lunches, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and changes to how we label foods.”
This most recent event aimed to discuss five key pillars in tackling the nutrition and health of U.S. citizens, including:
- Improving food access and affordability
- Integrating nutrition and health
- Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices
- Supporting physical activity for all
- Enhancing nutrition and food security research
The ability to achieve the above objectives depends on the unique circumstances of an individual’s life and health, such as their environment, career, relationships, and physical well-being. It’s not just about the food itself; it’s about all the other aspects of life that impact the food choices one can make.
We here at IIN understand and teach the value of earning not just a nutrition education but an integrative and holistic nutrition education – one encompassing knowledge of everything that has the potential to nourish us on and off our plates.
Risk factors for chronic disease
Chronic disease is categorized as a condition that lasts at least one year, requires ongoing medical attention, and limits the ability to live a “normal” life. Chronic diseases are most often referred to as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – meaning they cannot be passed from person to person – and typically are a result of a combination of genetic, environmental, physiological, and behavioral factors. Leading examples of NCDs include cardiovascular disease, many cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases.
The rates of said chronic diseases are driven by a wide range of factors, from a lack of physical activity and poor diet to more complicated factors like global urbanization, financial instability, and an ever-aging population. These factors lead to metabolic issues such as raised blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol, which increases one’s risk of developing chronic disease.
Social determinants of health
Social determinants of health are those aspects of life that impact an individual and community’s ability to make and sustain choices for better health, such as access to food, transportation, and health care.
Poverty is closely tied to the development of chronic disease. Low- and middle-income communities are disproportionately affected by NCDs, with 75% of global NCD deaths occurring within this demographic; that’s more than 30 million deaths per year.
Managing and treating an NCD is expensive, and increasing health-care costs compound the issue, impacting the most vulnerable communities. In poorer communities, the costs for chronic disease care can quickly become overwhelming. And because NCDs are often expensive and lifelong, combined with the loss of income that can come from dealing with long-term illness, chronic disease forces millions into poverty each year.
In support of the conference, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services affirmed the importance of access to quality healthcare as it relates to combating chronic disease. The report put out by the conference committee cites poverty as a key factor in the rise of NCDs, stating that “access to quality food is generally much lower in low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods where residents are predominately people of color.”
However, chronic disease management isn’t as simple as telling the public to eat better and exercise more. There needs to be a framework established to assist those who struggle and suffer the most. During the conference, the Biden-Harris administration reestablished its goal to “end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases.”
Updated and improved government programs: A step in the right direction
By implementing changes outlined in the White House’s strategy, citizens will be empowered to use tools offered to them in order to better their own well-being. The policies put into place must address the root causes of malnutrition, diet-related disease, and food insecurity. As the report states, the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated food insecurity, health disparities, and the resulting diet-related diseases. These conditions, in turn, unfortunately increase the risk of experiencing severe symptoms and dying from COVID-19.
Food insecurity is one issue addressed in the strategy put forth by the White House. The administration recognizes that many factors contribute to food insecurity and the resulting health issues, including access to safe health care, safe housing and transportation, education and job opportunities, and good neighborhood design (e.g., proximity to grocery stores). The strategy aims to help those experiencing food insecurity by expanding who qualifies for federal programs like SNAP and WIC; improving access to free, healthy school meals for 9 million more children – including during the summer months; preventing food loss and waste; and working to invest in community and economic development to increase access to food.
In this vein, the administration specifically mentions that the U.S. Small Business Administration will give “priority in ranking to applications by organizations that benefit food and nutrition businesses in the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition (GAFC). GAFC supports the development and growth of small businesses and startup innovation ecosystems.” This program can work to integrate the use of community health workers – like Health Coaches – into underserved communities.
How Health Coaches can help fill in the gaps
These programs exist and are benefiting millions of people across the country; but why does disease prevalence continue to rise? There’s a disconnect between knowing and doing, and that often lies in needing support. With a deep understanding of holistic health and wellness, Health Coaches are well equipped to work with the population to prevent diet-related diseases.
There’s further opportunity for Health Coaches to be involved in local, state, and national government work and policy implementation that supports hunger prevention and disease prevention. Coaches can provide resources to families on how to navigate the local grocery store; where to find farmers markets that take SNAP and other benefits; and advocate and lobby for increased access to services that make wellness possible, from transportation to urban planning.
The value of a holistic nutrition education
Empowering individuals to take their health into their own hands will always benefit the greater community, due to the phenomenon known as the ripple effect – you start making changes, and those around you want to know how you did it and how they can, too.
For more than 30 years, IIN has been teaching people from all over the world how to change their own lives and then go out and transform the lives of others. As we’ve learned here, it’s not just about food – it’s also about the things off our plates that fuel and nourish us. Health Coaches all over the globe have incredible opportunities to make the world a healthier place, and it can start here at IIN.