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Why the White House wants to put nutrition labels on the front of food packages

The White House is proposing pilot programs for Medicare to cover medically tailored meals — like the ones in this file photo — as well as nutrition and obesity counselling.
Charles Krupa
/
AP
The White House is proposing pilot programs for Medicare to cover medically tailored meals — like the ones in this file photo — as well as nutrition and obesity counselling.

The Biden administration is proposing that nutrition labels go on the front of food packages rather than the back. It's part of a strategy to end hunger and diet-related diseases in America in eight years — some 40 pages of ideas to try to make the nation healthier.

The White House unveiled the plan ahead of a conference on hunger, nutrition and health being held in Washington on Wednesday — the first of its kind since 1969, when a similar effort sparked programs like food stamps.

The strategy includes expanding nutrition assistance programs and launching more programs to cover medically tailored meals. But it's unclear how quickly most of the ideas could become reality, since many recommendations hinge on support from a divided Congress and changes to regulations.

Advocates say following through on the plan could take years — unlike the 1969 conference, when most of the new programs were implemented within two years.

The White House wants Congress to expand free school lunches to all students.
Lisa Rathke / AP
/
AP
The White House wants Congress to expand free school lunches to all students.

The White House wants to expand food programs like school lunches

The administration wants to expand existing food security programs to more people. This includes ideas like:

  • Expanding school meals to all students
  • Making it easier for more kids to get food during the summer months, when school is out
  • Allowing people who were formerly incarcerated or in college to receive food stamps.
  • These ideas would require legislation to pass Congress.

    There are some things the administration can do on its own. In the coming weeks, the Agriculture and Defense departments will use pandemic relief funding to expand online shopping for food in more states and with more retailers under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and food stamp programs.

    And, for the first time, a nutritionist will be hired to support the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education to help create Indigenous food hubs at schools and detention centers.

    The Biden administration is proposing that nutrition labels — with simplified information — go on the front of food packages instead of the back.
    J. David Ake / AP
    /
    AP
    The Biden administration is proposing that nutrition labels — with simplified information — go on the front of food packages instead of the back.

    The administration is keen on treating food as medicine

    The White House is buying into the idea of using food as medicine. It wants Congress to pass legislation for pilot programs that would cover medically tailored meals for people who are on Medicare, and to expand access to nutrition and obesity counseling for people on Medicare and Medicaid.

    The administration also wants to encourage private health insurance companies to cover medically tailored meals and more nutrition services.

    The White House says it's time to update food labels

    The White House says it wants the Food and Drug Administration to conduct research and propose new rules for nutrition labels to go on the front of food packages. The system should "quickly and easily communicate nutrition information ... such as star ratings or traffic light schemes to promote equitable access to nutrition information and healthier choices, and can also prompt industry to reformulate their products to be healthier," the White House said in its strategy.

    It also wants to propose an update to guidelines for companies who use the word "healthy" on food labels.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Ximena Bustillo
    Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.

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