A decade-old CDC plan to curb obesity could be a game changer

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More than a decade ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led efforts to develop a comprehensive federal food plan with the potential to reduce health care spending and improve the health of millions of Americans — if only one cared enough to fully implement it.

Next week, President Biden will become the first president in 50 years to revive the White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health. He should use this event as an opportunity to get his teeth into the CDC’s Federal Food Service Guidelines, which would immediately help him achieve many of his ambitious goals for the conference and fuel a decade-long effort by the CDC to improve food service. promote.

Issuing an executive order requiring the implementation of food services guidelines throughout the federal government would be the perfect capstone to the event, proving that the federal government is willing to do its part by advocating for transformative change.

These guidelines provide a policy framework to guide the billions of dollars the federal government spends each year on food procurement. They provide a guide to helping agencies and federal food vendors intentionally shift menus and sourcing practices toward healthier and more sustainable options.

Improving the federal food supply would have a huge impact: The federal government employs more than 4 million military personnel and civilians and also provides millions of meals nationwide to schoolchildren, people incarcerated in federal prisons and patients receiving care in federal medical facilities. Unfortunately, since their initial release in 2011, the guidelines have remained largely voluntary and have seen only limited adoption by multiple administrations.

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Just a stroke of the pen from the president can reduce the number of heart attacks, strokes and cases of diabetes, heart disease and stroke-related deaths of his federal employees, achieving lifetime cost savings of more than $500 million.

This move by the Biden administration could also boost job growth. According to a report published last year by the Rockefeller Foundation, if schools source only 30 percent of their food from local and regional producers, it would create 19,552 new local jobs, equivalent to generating $971 million in annual wages. The same report found that replacing the top 20 most-bought conventional school meal products with their USDA certified organic counterparts would reduce pesticide use by 567,000 lbs. Replacing 25 percent of meat purchases with the USDA Foods program in favor of plant proteins would save 4 million tons of CO2 eq annually, equivalent to taking 864,343 passenger cars off the road.

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These are both political victories and policy gains that reflect the powerful impact of the food system on human and planet health.

And President Biden should take note: He can further advance his administration’s goals on climate, health and other priorities by linking food service guidelines to value-based procurement requirements, such as the Good Food Purchasing Program, which calls for promoting equality, strengthening local agriculture and food economies, ensuring food security, supporting food production and service providers and protecting animal welfare.

Not only would an executive order be consistent with the objectives of several previously issued executive orders (such as EOs 13985, 14057, and 14030), but the CDC has already done initial work to develop and update its directive recommendations. The government will always spend money on procurement, and every dollar it spends and every meal it serves must be used to achieve our health, climate, social and economic goals. Food service guidelines are the low hanging fruit.

Changing the way the government buys food isn’t going to be an easy or seamless process — the CDC only adopted its own policies in 2018 — but it means food sourcing is an untapped part of meeting our collective nutrition and sustainability goals. .

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If the guidelines were mandated 10 years ago when the CDC released its first report, we would be reaping significant health and climate benefits today. We’ve given our federal agencies ten years to adopt this expert policy, and that grace period is over. It’s time for the federal government to get its own house in order.

Closing out the historic return of the White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health with an executive order imposing CDC guidelines would mark President Biden a major victory for his health and climate agenda. And with the current state of the looming climate crisis, further delays are not an option.

William H. Dietz, MD, Ph.D., is the chairman of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. He is also the Sumner M. Redstone Center Chair and Director of the STOP Obesity Alliance.

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