Originally published by politico.com on Wednesday, January 25, 2018. Written by Helena Bottemiller Evich.
A small bipartisan working group focused on using nutrition to improve the nation’s health formally launched in the House on Wednesday, just in time for the 2018 farm bill cycle.
The Food is Medicine Working Group, which is part of the House Hunger Caucus, is led by a mix of New England Democrats and Kansas Republicans: Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.). The group aims to emphasize the link between nutrition programs and health outcomes — a small step toward better aligning agriculture and health policy.
“My hope for this working group is that we’re able to explore our nation’s anti-hunger safety net and to discuss ways to make it even better,” McGovern said Wednesday at a standing-room-only briefing on Capitol Hill.
McGovern listed several policies the group might take up, including incentivizing the purchase of fruits and vegetables, bolstering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education, looking at “medically tailored” meals to help people fight disease, and exploring programs that allow doctors to give their patients prescriptions for produce instead of pharmaceutical drugs.
“Our hope that this working group is going to be about more than just talk, it’s going to be about action,” McGovern said. “There really are areas where Democrats and Republicans can come together on this issue of ‘food is medicine.’ We have a farm bill coming up and we have other legislative vehicles coming up where I hope that, in a bipartisan way, we can present some suggestions.”
Staff on both sides of the aisle attended the briefing, along with food and ag policy leaders from Tufts University, the George Washington University Food Institute, Harvard Law School, Feeding America, the Partnership for a Healthier America and the food industry. It was notable in its overarching theme of bipartisanship.
Marshall, a conservative, heaped praise on McGovern and touted their friendship. “You have personified what civility looks like to me,” Marshall said. “If anything, we agree on the same goals, the same objectives: that we don’t want any kids going to bed hungry at night, we want to make sure the elderly have access to nutrition — truly, food is health. Sometimes we may disagree on how we get there, but we certainly agree on the goals and objectives, and I appreciate your leadership.”
Marshall, an OB-GYN who said he’s delivered an average of one baby per day over the course of his career, went on to talk about the importance of proper nutrition for pregnant women, offering strong praise for the WIC program, which supports pregnant women, infants and young children.
“Of all the programs that I’ve seen work great at the federal and state level, in the real world, both WIC and [the Maternal & Infant Care Program] do a great job of helping educate women of what they should be eating,” he said.