Texas chil­dren sand­wiched be­tween hunger and obe­sity

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION - eileen GAr­ciA lO­cal cON­TrIb­u­TOr gar­cia is Ceo of tex­ans Care for Chil­dren, a non­par­ti­san non­profit ad­vo­cacy group based in austin.

Two re­cent re­ports re­layed bad and seem­ingly para­dox­i­cal news for Texas chil­dren. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­search, our Texas kids, more than al­most any in the coun­try, face threats from both hunger and obe­sity.

Nearly one out of four Texas chil­dren is “food in­se­cure,” mean­ing they might not know where their next meal will come from, says a July 1 re­port from Feed­ing Amer­ica, which ranked Texas 49th in the coun­try for pro­vid­ing re­li­able food ac­cess for chil­dren un­der 18. The same week, how­ever, the Trust for Amer­ica’s Health an­nounced Texas chil­dren suf­fer dis­pro­por­tion­ately from obe­sity. More than 20 per­cent of kids here are obese, and Texas had the sev­enth-high­est child obe­sity rank­ing.

Un­der­ly­ing these statis­tics is a sad re­al­ity: Too many chil­dren get poorly nour­ished be­cause their en­vi­ron­ment—at school, in the neigh­bor­hood and their com­mu­nity—proves in­hos­pitable to healthy eat­ing. Four fac­tors help ex­plain why.

Obe­sity and hunger might seem like op­po­sites, but in re­al­ity both re­flect fi­nan­cial strug­gle. And about half of Texas chil­dren grow up in low-in­come house­holds.

First, obe­sity and hunger might seem like op­po­sites, but in re­al­ity both re­flect fi­nan­cial strug­gle. About half of Texas chil­dren grow up in low-in­come house­holds, where cheap but sa­ti­at­ing junk food might be all that fits the fam­ily bud­get. A 2007 study of gro­cery prices found 1,000 calo­ries of junk food, like pas­tries and soda, cost on av­er­age 10 times less than 1,000 calo­ries of nu­tri­tious foods, like fruits and veg­eta­bles. Fam­i­lies can fill up on pro­cessed foods for just a few dol­lars, a price Texas farm­ers can’t eas­ily match with fresh, whole­some food. The re­sult is chil­dren hav­ing di­ets that are ei­ther too limited or too empty of calo­ries.

Sec­ond, many Texas fam­i­lies live in ar­eas with­out any su­per­mar­kets or other places to buy pro­duce. Known as “food deserts,” these mostly ru­ral and in­ner-city ar­eas tend to have only two choices for food shop­ping: con­ve­nience stores and fast-food restau­rants.

Fam­i­lies know what they should feed their chil­dren, and ev­i­dence shows bring­ing more healthy op­tions to food deserts through pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships can make a big dif­fer­ence. The mere pres­ence of a su­per­mar­ket in one study in­creased fruit and veg­etable con­sump­tion 32 per­cent for a vul­ner­a­ble group.

Third, in Texas, many chil­dren el­i­gi­ble for pub­lic feed­ing pro­grams face un­nec­es­sary hur­dles. Our state has strug­gled to pro­vide ben­e­fits like food stamps to all the fam­i­lies who qual­ify and ap­ply for the pro­gram. While agency lead­ers have worked to im­prove the state’s sys­tem for food stamp en­roll­ment, elected of­fi­cials con­tinue to pro­vide too lit­tle sup­port for re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers that keep many fam­i­lies who qual­ify from re­ceiv­ing timely as­sis­tance.

Also, in sum­mer months like these, no school means no school lunches or break­fasts (which re­search links to lower obe­sity rates in some kids). Texas’s Sum­mer Food Ser­vice Pro­gram serves only a frac­tion of the chil­dren who par­tic­i­pate in the school-year pro­grams. The state needs more sites to of­fer sum­mer feed­ing, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas, and many fam­i­lies don’t know about the pro­gram. Pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives and de­creas­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den for more non­prof­its, park and recre­ation de­part­ments, schools and faith-based groups to host sum­mer feed­ing pro­grams would bol­ster par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Fi­nally, many of our poli­cies to deal with child hunger came about in a dif­fer­ent era. To­day, both hunger and obe­sity take a toll on chil­dren’s cog­ni­tion, growth, devel­op­ment and fu­ture suc­cess, so we need poli­cies to ad­dress the two to­gether. Congress is weigh­ing reau­tho­riza­tion of the Child Nutrition Act, which would do just that — but time is run­ning out. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in both cham­bers need pres­sure to pass this cru­cial leg­is­la­tion for chil­dren and the coun­try.

As is so of­ten the case when it comes to our chil­dren, we will get back what we put in. Giv­ing chil­dren junk and de­pri­va­tion won’t build healthy, thriv­ing adults. Nour­ish­ing sus­te­nance will. Job one for Texas is feed­ing our fu­ture well.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.