November 10, 2022

Breaking Bread: Healthcare, Federal, and Community Leaders Come Together to Ensure Access to Better Nutrition for All

On the heels of September’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, I was honored to join more than 200 Federal, healthcare, and community leaders for “Come to the Table: USDA’s National Nutrition Security and Healthcare Summit.” The goal of the Summit was to build on the momentum from the White House Conference and determine actionable next steps for the goals set forth to ensure all Americans have the resources necessary to gain access to and eat nutritious foods that support overall health. Conversations during the Summit crystalized a need for equal emphasis on both food AND nutritional intake, as they both play critical roles in the wellbeing of Americans.

Simply put, poor nutrition is a leading cause of illnesses in the U.S. with a disproportionate effect on certain groups. We heard thoughts and proposed next steps from a number of speakers at the Summit, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Congressman Jim McGovern, Representative Jaime Herrera Butler, and many others. In his opening remarks, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that “hunger and diet-related diseases have significant impacts,” especially on underserved communities, but both are “almost entirely preventable.” In our work at MANNA, we see the tremendous impact of the nutrition provided by our meals on those battling and recovering from serious illnesses. Access to and education around food and nutrition is critical in how we can better support the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Poor nutrition is associated with more than half a million deaths per year, and is a challenge we can no longer afford to ignore. And while poor nutrition is widespread, the burden is not equally shared. There are considerable disparities in diet-related illnesses. The prevalence of obesity1 and high blood pressure2 is higher for non-Hispanic Black adults than for non-Hispanic white adults and American Indian/Alaska Native adults have the highest prevalence of diagnosed diabetes3. The Summit emphasized these disparities and the need to take a more equitable lens to our efforts on access to nutritional foods for all.

The meaningful connections made at the Summit left us all feeling energized with concrete ways to help the healthcare sector further lean in on optimal food and nutrition. To ensure our healthcare system addresses the nutrition needs of all people, the national strategy created a call to action for states to leverage all available federal authorities to expand coverage of “Food as Medicine” interventions and asks health insurance companies to consider providing or expanding coverage of nutrition services, including produce prescriptions and/or medically tailored meals for target populations. We are proud to continue playing a major role in this work.

It is promising that the USDA is committed to hosting regional summits in the future and that these conversations are finally being propelled into a national arena where lawmakers, the private sector, and community partners now have forums to work together to create action plans toward solutions. As the USDA so eloquently stated in a recap of the Summit, “it is going to take an enduring spirit of collaboration to solve one of the most pressing issues of our times.”

As MANNA continues to forge new partnerships and create collaborative action, we are one step closer to achieving our vision for the future with a healthcare system that recognizes the healing effects of proper food and nutritional intake for people with serious illnesses. I look forward to sharing more with you as this important work continues.



  1. The United States Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Facts.
  2. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Hypertension.
  3. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burdens in the United States.