Reflections on the 33rd Annual National Food Policy Conference

By: Gretchen Chriszt   Date: 9/29/10

Last week was the 33rd Annual National Food Policy Conference here in Washington, DC. This year's theme was "Improving Child Nutrition: New Challenges and Opportunities" which falls right in line with September's designation as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. The many panels and keynote speakers addressed nutrition messages, physical activity campaigns, and other programs that are trying to bring an end to childhood obesity through healthy lifestyle changes.

Like any good "inside the beltway" conference, many key figures in the government and private sectors gave their perspectives on how their organizations and agencies are addressing childhood obesity. Yesterday, Janey Thornton, the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services spoke about her role in overseeing 15 federal nutrition programs that affect people from all walks of life. Dr. Thornton spoke about the vital importance of nutrition programs to children, specifically the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Summer Food Service Program (SPSP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Why are these programs so essential to children?
According to Dr. Thornton, 16.7 million American children live in food insecure households. That means these kids often do not know when and if their next meal is coming, and they are not always guaranteed healthy foods with their meals. Malnutrition is not just for "skinny" kids; overweight kids who get too much fat and sugar and not enough of the "good stuff" like fiber and vitamins need attention too. Dr. Thornton also spoke about the importance of the WIC program. Fifteen percent of today's babies are born to moms who are WIC participants. WIC gives moms-to-be nutrition guidance and assistance, and without WIC, many babies may not be as healthy as they are today.

Focus on Food Safety
The newly confirmed USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety had the important role as the last keynote speaker of the Food Policy Conference. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen was confirmed earlier this month - a fitting time since September is also Food Safety Education Month! Dr. Hagen set the stage for her role in overseeing the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) by sharing a story about a patient who was in the ICU after eating food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This man survived D-Day, raised four children, built his own business from the ground up, and had a happy and successful marriage for almost 60 years. After going through all of that, this man was near death because of a tiny yet lethal organism that just happened to be in his food.  Dr. Hagen spoke of her commitment to uphold the government's duty to protect its citizens from harm, be it in on the streets or in our food. She is committed to making prevention the number one goal of FSIS through the use of valuable tools to utilize data effectively, improve inspection tools, and create better policies and regulations. Dr. Hagen is dedicated to continuing the transformation of FSIS from a reactive to a preventive agency that is will ensure the health of the American food supply in the years to come.
Click here to read the full transcript of Dr. Hagen's speech.

There are many of us who think about food safety and child nutrition issues year-long, whether we are moms and dads or leaders in our field. Who do you think are important people involved in child nutrition and food safety issues?