A recent headline caught my attention, a 200 pound eight year old was taken from his mother and put into foster care. The state, Ohio, indicates that the child’s obesity is so severe, that it is tantamount to child abuse. Without more details, it is difficult to come to any conclusion as to what the mother was doing to help the child lose weight or if there are existing health problems that can cause rapid weight gain, the fact that stories like this are becoming more common are worrying.
Why is childhood obesity reaching epidemic levels?
The problem is very complicated because it is not only about diet and exercise but socio-economic realities, living environment, and the corporatization of our food supply.
Many people, especially in urban environments, live in food deserts. It can make purchasing fresh foods difficult. I experienced this first hand when I was a college student living in Baltimore without a car. The closest grocery store was much further than walking distance. My only option to purchase food was to buy food from a local corner store where fresh foods were very hard to come by or take some kind of transport (cab or bus) to the grocery store and purchase what I could carry. If you are unsure whether you live in a food desert, you can use this locator. Enter an address and check to see how many people in your area are living in this terrible circumstance. Below is an example of one of a food desert map. The highlighted areas are places where grocery stores are difficult to get to.
Children are spending too much time in front of the TV/computer/video games and not enough time playing outside. Couple this with cuts to gym classes, parks and recreation departments, and sports in schools, leads to many inactive children.
The economy is terrible and when food is scarce, people often choose to eat the cheapest and most filling items they can buy. No one should ever have to choose between electricity and food but these types of decisions are made every day. Processed foods are cheap but often devoid of nutrients. They are also filled with heavily subsidized commodities (like corn). We did better as a nation when we ate local, fresh, and less processed foods.
What You Can Do
Volunteer with a community garden. The Polk County Young Democrats were lucky enough to volunteer with the first community garden in our county. This garden is able to donate fruits and vegetables to food pantries and has local school children come in to learn about gardening. Community Gardens are a great way to improve an empty lot and can make a huge difference at a time when food pantries are running low on items because of the needs.
Get involved in your local school district to ensure school lunches and breakfasts are healthy. From the USDA:
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established under the
National School Lunch Act (NSLA), signed by President Harry Truman in
1946, to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and
to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities
and other foods.” The NSLP has grown to become the second largest
U.S. food and nutrition assistance program in both numbers of children
served—30 million in 2006—and Federal dollars spent—8 billion in 2006.
Almost 60 percent of American children age 5-18 participate in the program
at least once per week. Almost half of all lunches served are provided free to
students, with an additional 10 percent provided at reduced prices. Although
schools are not required to offer NSLP meals, 94 percent of schools, both
public and private, choose to participate in the program. NSLP accounts for
17 percent of the total Federal expenditures for all food and nutrition assistance
School lunch and breakfast are two of the best ways to combat childhood obesity and food insecurity in children. For great and in-depth information about what parents and other concerned citizens are doing, please read Lunch Wars by Amy Kalafa.
Volunteer with a local food pantry. Not just for the holiday season but these non-profits need help and donations year round. To find a local food pantry, please visit Feed America and enter your zip code for local resources.
Childhood obesity and food insecurity in children are reaching epidemic levels in our society but there are ways to prevent it. It requires us all to work together to make sure that no one in this country goes to sleep food insecure and that everyone has access to nutritious and fresh foods.