In US, it’s obe­sity vs. hunger

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Amer­ica faces a stark con­flu­ence of is­sues. On one hand, we face ris­ing lev­els of over­weight and obese adults, tod­dlers, chil­dren and ado­les­cents that threaten our fu­ture in many ways.

Then, this week, there was to be a showdown in the U.S. House to de­ter­mine to what de­gree this rich coun­try will feed its poor­est and hun­gri­est cit­i­zens: the el­derly, fam­i­lies with chil­dren, the dis­abled and the chron­i­cally un­em­ployed for whom there are no jobs.

Since the re­ces­sion be­gan in 2005, food banks and food stamps are sus­tain­ing even peo­ple with jobs and peo­ple who’ve never be­fore sought as­sis­tance, ac­cord­ing to Bill Bolling, founder of the At­lanta Com­mu­nity Food Bank.

In fact, syn­di­cated colum­nist Cyn­thia Tucker quotes Bolling in re­port­ing that half of those seek­ing food as­sis­tance today are peo­ple with jobs. Ob­vi­ously, those jobs don’t pay enough to feed them and their fam­i­lies, and jobs are hard to find these days.

You may have read the num­bers re­ported by the Food Re­search and Ac­tion Cen­ter (FRAC): Al­most 70 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults are over­weight; over 35 per­cent are obese. Al­most 32 per­cent of chil­dren and ado­les­cents are over­weight; al­most 17 per­cent are obese. More than 30 per­cent of low-in­come tod­dlers are over­weight or obese.

Dis­par­i­ties ex­ist be­tween gen­ders, racial/eth­nic di­vides, age, ge­og­ra­phy and so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus.

The heav­i­est peo­ple are in the South and Mid­west, and re­search in 2009 re­ported by FRAC says the heav­i­est peo­ple have got­ten heav­ier in the past decade.

A study co-spon­sored by the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion in 2012 and re­ported in The Wash­ing­ton Post says that if present trends con­tinue, by 2030 at least 44 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in ev­ery state could be obese. Think of the enor­mous im­pact on health care, na­tional pro­duc­tiv­ity and na­tional se­cu­rity.

There are many rea­sons FRAC cites for this grow­ing health cri­sis among lower-in­come in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies. Some are: 1) low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods lack ac­cess to full-ser­vice gro­cery stores and fresh food op­tions; 2) health­ier food is gen­er­ally more ex­pen­sive than cheap, high­fat, high-calo­rie items bought to stretch the dol­lar and fend off hunger; and 3) low-in­come fam­i­lies typ­i­cally have fewer safe and well-main­tained op­tions for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

How­ever, we know from per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence that be­ing over­weight and obese isn’t limited to low-in­come peo­ple. It’s a uniquely Amer­i­can is­sue that crops up in other coun­tries when Amer­i­can fast-food pur­vey­ors set up shop there.

That makes me won­der if be­com­ing over­weight or obese might be more cor­rectly cred­ited — or dis­cred­ited — to the ingredients in our food. Amer­i­can pro­cessed foods con­tain many harm­ful chem­i­cals banned in most other Western coun­tries. House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor wants to cut by $4 bil­lon per year over 10 years what this rich na­tion spends on its hun­gri­est cit­i­zens — the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP) — de­spite bil­lions still granted to huge agri­cul­tural en­ter­prises. The vote was set for this week. There is dis­agree­ment, colum­nist Tucker writes, in whether the cuts should be “merely harsh or ex­tremely se­vere.” Ba­si­cally, he would re­duce the deficit on the backs and stom­achs of this coun­try’s most vul­ner­a­ble.

A New York Times Opin­ion Page piece Sept. 8 was en­ti­tled “Mind­lessly Gut­ting Food Stamps.”

“The Can­tor plan would force an es­ti­mated 4–6 mil­lion peo­ple to lose the food stamps that now sus­tain them.” Some 14.5 per­cent of U.S house­holds, the ar­ti­cle states, suf­fer hunger and food in­se­cu­rity.

Can­tor calls it “re­form,” the piece con­tin­ues, “while blam­ing the vic­tims of hunger sim­ply be­cause the food stamp rolls had to dou­ble to nearly 48 mil­lion in the crunch of the re­ces­sion.”

For­mer Se­nate Ma­jor­ity lead­ers Tom Daschle, Demo­crat, and Bob Dole, Repub­li­can, aired their opin­ion in the LA Times Tues­day.

“In 2011, SNAP lifted 47 mil­lion peo­ple out of poverty, and 72 per­cent of its par­tic­i­pants were fam­i­lies with chil­dren. The er­ror rate — the com­bined rate for un­der­pay­ments and over­pay­ments — has been on a steady de­cline since the 1990s. And a 2008 Moody’s An­a­lytic study shows that ev­ery $1 spent to help re­duce hunger has re­sulted in $1.70 in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity: “In a coun­try strug­gling to emerge from the worst eco­nomic re­ces­sion since the De­pres­sion, this is no time to play pol­i­tics with hunger.”

It should be of no con­se­quence in this heart­less de­bate that the cost of the SNAP pro­gram has dou­bled, as has the num­ber of ben­e­fi­cia­ries, since 2005.

That’s when it’s been needed most, and the need is un­abated. I’d like to see Eric Can­tor walk a mile in the shoes of some­one who’s hun­gry day in and day out.

Bar­bara Mor­gan is a Covington res­i­dent with a back­ground in news­pa­per jour­nal­ism, state govern­ment and pol­i­tics. She can be reached at barbm2158@ gmail.com.

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