Addressing Hunger and Obesity With “Change” Policy

If you have not read the Washington Post article on future Agriculture policy in the U.S. — you must drop what you are doing and read it now.

You may react the same way I did – it’s about time and “duh”. Bottom line message: there’s a promise of putting nutrition at the center of food assistance programs – and MAYBE even bringing back nutrition education into the schools.

Tom Vilsack, Obama’s selection for agriculture secretary said he would put “nutrition at the center of all food assistance programs,” a signal that he will get involved next year when Congress moves to reauthorize nutrition programs that support school breakfasts and lunches as well as summer food for children.

I’ve written on this blog before about the hunger/obesity paradox. FRAC has research on this issue too. Feeding low income people in the U.S. should be about nourishing them not just giving them calories. There are ways to nourish people healthfully and economically. Education is the key too “teach a man to fish”, right? With innovative programs like Operation Frontline out there helping to educate and nourish hungry Americans, we can empower people to improve their health. Government programs should strengthen and facilitate local and national humanitarian initiatives and hopefully that’s what USDA will do going forward.

What do you think?

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5 Responses

  1. I have been thinking about this paradox lately. I simply can’t figure out why this is the case. How come we have an oversupply of food (we are a big exporter), yet there are so many people, including children, who go hungry each day? Is it as simple as supply and demand? Or is it because of inefficiencies in the food supply chain? I do not know.

    I think there is a great need for creative ideas. Why not encourage supermarkets to “donate” produce which is still good but close to its shelf life? You would need a very efficient distribution system, but hey if we can send overnight packages half way across the world at a reasonable price, why can’t we send nutritious food to those who need it the most? I see huge mark downs for produce and fruit every time I visit the grocery store. Clearly, supermarkets would welcome a better alternative that also helps alleviate the hunger problem.

    I am sure there are many more ideas, and I certainly do not claim to have them all!

    Frankly, I think it is embarrassing to read about children having to go hungry in America.

  2. It is very real. There’s an issue of genetics and certain races having higher obesity and diabetes (Hispanic, African American, Pima Indian) and then the layer of income status over this genetic disposition is a factor. Then there’s the issue of poor quality food and infrequent meals lowering the metabolism to basement levels and not giving the body what it needs to thrive.

    Check out SOME – I volunteer there serving meals from time to time. Always see families and the kids just break my heart. http://www.some.org/

    There is lots of good work going on with Operation Frontline http://www.strength.org/operation_frontline/

    But there is always more we can do.

    I think addressing nutrition education in government assistance programs as well as giving them access to nutritious foods is a step in the right direction. We both know we’ve seen green bananas at the store and they don’t ripen at home for at least a week so issues of “perishability” don’t fly with me.

    There’s a balance between educating people about how much food they can get in lieu of more expensive options that appear cheaper. I can think of these examples off the top of my head:
    1. cooking beans and rice as a main dish with spices in lieu of a family fast food night. 2. pb&j with celery sticks and orange slices instead of one of those “lunchables” you can buy in stores.

    I don’t know too much about the exporting of food political concerns, but I can understand what you are saying. I do think we need to be a leader in world hunger issues too. But we should not have to choose one or the other. Have you seen the success of Plumpynut? I know it is not a “rocket science” solution to end world hunger, but when a cheap and cheerful solution works, why not deploy it wide-scale? I love how it uses local labor to process peanut butter as the base.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumpy%27nut
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/19/60minutes/main3386661.shtml

  3. Great links. Thanks Rebecca.

    I think Share our Strength is active in Florida where I live. I need to check it out.

    In addition to education, I think there is also a need for role models. Our perceptions about food and nutrition, lifestyle, health – almost everything – are strongly influenced by role models. Quite frequently, TV advertising plays a big role.

    For the demographic groups you mentioned, I think there is a big gap in terms of a role model.

    I can’t speak from first hand experience for sure. Just my gut feeling.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

  4. Interesting points…

    There’s not enough attention on public service announcement type of information on fruits and vegetables. The government ads that come out are usually quite sad. The Shrek series of commercials totally backfired. I think the goverment was trying to have an “overweight” character kids can relate to, but then that same week Shrek was endorsing Snickers. The watchdogs went nuts!

    I do strongly believe we should support programs that work. So if “share our strength” thinks they can curb hunger/obesity then fund them to let them try.

  5. [...] her recent post Addressing Hunger and Obesity with “Change” Policy, my blogger friend Rebecca Scritchfield is hopeful that Tom Vilsack, when confirmed as President [...]

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