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A panel of experts at the Sept. 28 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health agreed that evidence-based research can help expand pilot nutrition programs and inform equitable policymaking for food security inclusive for all communities.
The experts discussed potential challenges and solutions related to the fifth pillar of the National Strategy, which aims to “enhance nutrition and food security research.”
The first session, titled “Evidence to Action: Using Research to Guide Policy and Scale Pilots,” was moderated by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist (D-Tenn.). The panelists focused on how they’ve used research and data to scale up a variety of community and school feeding programs.
Angela Odoms-Young, associate professor of maternal and child nutrition at Cornell University, said that the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a pivot to food security and nutrition research innovation through pilot programs at the community level, noting that lessons learned include ensuring that the voices of “lived experience” are considered when forming policy.
“We need to make sure that we understand enough about what worked, what didn't work, and what resources we need to make sure it’s effective,” said Odoms-Young, who directs the university’s Food and Nutrition Education in Communities Program and New York State Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. “Those lessons learned are so important. One size doesn't fit all. If you don't have the voice of people in that community at the table, then you won't really understand what's effective to scale up.”
Panelists also discussed the importance of data-driven partnerships with the private and public sectors to drive measurable innovation. Ross Wilson, executive director with the Shah Family Foundation noted that his experience launching innovative school meal programs such as the My Way Café in Boston and Local Lunchbox in Chicago were successful as a result of building partnerships across industry sectors, including government.
“[We found that] you could build a model and see how these things work,” Wilson said. “That's what partnership looks like to me, is that we need to bring in private sector, nonprofits, and others to help government take risks, measure their investment, see if it works, and if it works, scale that project.”
The second session was titled “Developing Innovative and Inclusive Policy Solutions” and was moderated by Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA undersecretary for research, education, and economics. This panel discussed ways to ensure that nutrition and food security research accounts for all communities and informs policies.
“Disabled people are three times more likely to be food insecure than others,” said Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “Yet even at the federal level, we don’t keep sufficient track of how many disabled people utilize nutrition programs due to utilizing overly strict definitions of disability. That means that our food programs are often inadequate in addressing the needs of disabled people.”
Jimmieka Mills, cofounder of Equitable Spaces, which focuses on ensuring that individuals with lived experiences of poverty are directly engaged in the design, discussion, and creation of policies that affect them, noted the importance of making the connection between research datapoints and the people who are affected by nutrition and food security policy.
“If we are not engaging those who are directly impacted, it's almost impossible for us to solve for hunger, housing, childcare, or whatever you’re looking to solve for,” Mills said. “You have to start with those who are the experts in that experience and those experts are those who’ve experienced hunger, poverty, and other disparities.”
The panelists also said that developing community-specific nutrition policy will require ensuring that research has data sovereignty through effective data collection that is gathered in both a culturally relevant and a scientifically sound manner.
“The role for academics then is to not just have the publication,” concluded Donald Warne, professor and co-director, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for American Indian Health. “We need to be actively involved in ensuring that the data are used for appropriate advocacy and [are] actually making meaningful changes.”
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