Impacts and Echoes
Social and Decision Analytics | National Well-being

Impacts and Echoes: The Lasting Impact of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health

The 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health had a lasting influence on the direction of food and nutrition policy in the United States over the past 50 years. The conference produced recommendations leading to federal legislation and programs to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, improve consumers’ nutrition knowledge through education and labeling, and monitor the nutritional status of the US population (Woteki et al. 2020). In October 2019, Dr. Cathie Woteki contributed a keynote speech at the 50th anniversary event convened by Tufts University and Harvard University. To help disseminate these insights to a broader audience, our team collaborated on a paper published in the Annual Review of Nutrition that details the historical relevance of the White House Conference and its lasting impact on food and nutrition policy in the US today. Through the use of historical analysis and computational text analysis, we elaborate how the event influenced our understanding of national well-being through a number of cultural, political, and environmental processes over the latter half of the 20th century.

Findings

A 1969 Conference on Food and Nutrition Resonates Today

Fifty years have passed since the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. Yet, the event's legacy is still shaping our national food and nutrition policies today, especially in preventing hunger and malnutrition for America’s most vulnerable populations. The conference, convened by then-president Nixon, brought together more than 5,000 people from all backgrounds. It became a catalyst for much-needed progress in U.S. policy focused on the food related challenges that plagued millions of Americans. It is the only White House conference of its kind to date.To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, our project:

  • Conducted a rigorous historical analysis of the events’s impact on social, political, scientific, and environmental policies over the past half century.
  • Used computational text analysis to examine the major themes discussed during the 1969 conference proceedings.The results of our analyses are detailed in a forthcoming publication in the Annual Review of Nutrition and our supplementary website.

The results of our analyses are detailed in a forthcoming publication in the Annual Review of Nutrition and our supplementary website.

Historical Analysis

We investigated the historical impacts of the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health played on five broad domains: the social scene, the food environment, the relationship between nutrition and health, the use and availability of public health data, and the overall impact on the conference had on policy initiatives over the latter half of the 20th century. While the first portion of our paper explores the notable cultural events that sparked interest in the conference, the latter half of the publication details what progress has been made in the past 50 years as well as an outline for what steps are still to be taken to address inequities in food, nutrition, and health. For example, we detail how key players in the field of nutrition helped to develop federal legislation and programs that helped to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, improve consumers’ nutrition knowledge through education and labeling, and monitor the nutritional status of the U.S. population for more than 50 years. These policies play a major role in shaping the way we eat today.

Computational Text Analysis

After the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, the committee released a large report that summarized the event’s proceedings. To garner insights into this report, we used computational text analysis to examine how frequently terms in this text were used together. This analysis revealed how major conference themes were linked to concrete policies (i.e. food stamps, school lunch, and health education), governmental institutions (i.e. Departments of Health and Agriculture), and populations across the United States (e.g. American Indians and Puerto Ricans) in the White House Conference report. Not surprisingly, many of the recommendations proposed during the proceedings are still in effect today.

Tools

The results of our historical analysis were documented in a manuscript published in the Annual Review of Nutrition (Woteki et al. 2020) and on its accompanying website:

Publication website:

Woteki CE, Kramer BL, Cohen S, Lancaster VA. (2020). Impacts and Echoes: The Lasting Influence of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. Annual Review of Nutrition, 40.

Project website:

Impacts and Echoes

Team

Visiting Distinguished Institute Professor

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Principal Scientist

Publications
Social and Decision Analytics
Woteki C; Kramer B; Cohen S; Lancaster V . Annual Review of Nutrition. Annual Reviews. 2020; 40:437-461
In the News
Public Health

In 1969, then-President Richard Nixon commissioned the first and only White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which became a catalyst for much-needed progress in U.S. policy focused on hunger and malnutrition. What was set in motion over the course of the three-day conference changed the national landscape around food and nutrition policy, and has had lasting impact almost five decades years later.