In a recent report requested by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Congressman Tim Ryan, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed federal efforts to address health conditions linked to diet and found that a cohesive strategy across government agencies could help to improve Americans’ diets and prevent chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
FLPC’s work has long aimed to address many of the report’s troubling findings:
For example, the report contained information about the costs of diet-related disease in the United States and the federal government’s share of these costs. Chronic diet-related diseases accounted for half of all annual deaths in the U.S. According to the report, federal government spending accounted for 54 percent of the $383.6 billion in spending to treat adults for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
Further, although many chronic health conditions are preventable, these conditions are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. The report underscored that in 2018 over half of deaths among adults were the result of conditions that, in some cases, could have been prevented with improved diet. GAO also found that U.S. agencies have over 200 different diet-related efforts, but many of the programs are not aimed at preventing disease.
FLPC recognizes the ability of diet-related interventions to address certain chronic diseases. Through our Food is Medicine work, in partnership with the Health Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, FLPC advocates for health care coverage of nutrition interventions like medically-tailored meals that are demonstrated to improve clinical outcomes and reduce health care costs.
In addition, FLPC recognizes the importance of diet in preventing disease. Through our Approaches to Reducing Sugar Consumption project, FLPC has provided pro bono technical assistance to community organizations, food policy councils, and local and state government entities across the U.S. interested in implementing innovative sugar-reduction policies in order to address the linkages between sugar consumption and obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related chronic diseases. In addition, since 2017, we have collaborated with the Nutrition Education Working Group, a group of faculty and students at Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health, and the Gaples Institute, to explore a range of policy options to increase food and nutrition education among doctors, in order to better equip them to answer basic questions about food and nutrition.
We wholeheartedly agree with the report’s conclusion that a federal strategy is needed to coordinate diet-related efforts. In 2017, FLPC and the Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems published Blueprint for a National Food Strategy, a roadmap for developing a U.S. national food strategy. The need for a coordinated federal approach to food and agricultural law and policy has only become more dire since then, leading to the publication of The Urgent Call for a US National Food Strategy, which advocates for an immediate commitment to implement a national food strategy as a response to the current crisis. We can no longer afford to address diet-related issues, among other concurrent and interrelated food systems issues, inefficiently and incrementally, but must act to address the significant long-term threats facing our economic and social sustainability. With a National Food Strategy, we can harness and leverage the power of all of the programs related to addressing diet-related health conditions, streamline efforts, and put the administrative infrastructure in place to make these efforts sustainable.