This generation of children in the United States will “live sicker, and die younger than their parents” according to a documentary entitled “A Place at the Table”. There is too much readily available food with fat, sodium, and sugar, and NOT enough fruits and vegetables. This country’s obesity epidemic is not just due to the lack of education regarding nutrition and fitness, but in a large part due to the lack of healthy food available to those who live below a certain means (not just the unemployed or disabled). Everyone should be able to afford quality healthy food, but that just isn’t the case. In 1980 when the obesity epidemic began, the cost of fruits and vegetables began to rise, and the cost of processed foods went down. There were 200 food banks in 1980, and by 2011 there were 40,000 food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens. While charitable donations are great, they aren’t solving the hunger problem we face in America.
A family that lives on food stamps and is given $3 in food stamps for the week can buy a few pieces of broccoli, 8 ounces of orange juice, and a handful of grapes which amounts to about 312 total calories. OR with the $3 they can purchase 4 liters of soda, a bag of chips, and 5 packs of Ramen noodles which amounts to 3, 767 calories! Therefore, it’s a no brainer which foods a hungry family on food stamps is going to purchase. They buy what will sustain them in the short run, but in the long run these food will wreck havoc in more ways than one. These families rely on food assistance or charitable donations as part of their basic needs. They go to the food pantry and get what they can, which usually consists of foods high in sugars, starches, and chemicals. All processed foods. In a perfect world we would all have access to a balanced array of foods.
The impact that these unhealthy foods have on children that HAVE to (not CHOOSE to) eat them on a daily basis is enormous. Children may sustain speech and hearing difficulties, weakened immune systems, and low cognitive development due to their first few years of food insufficiency and not getting well nourished with NUTRIENT DENSE food (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables). The impact on a younger child during developmental stages is far greater than a grown adult. Medical costs are high for these folks as they have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure due to lack of nutrition. The impact in the classroom is also a problem. Children may have trouble concentrating, may be tired, or may not be applying themselves because their focus is solely on the fact that they are HUNGRY!
The reason for this absurdity is that the government subsidizes certain farm crops such as cotton, wheat, corn, soy, and rice (main ingredients in processed foods) which makes up 84% of farm crops, while not subsidizing the 15% of dairy and livestock, and the 1% of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The farm producers of the latter are smaller, and therefore have no clout. And this doesn’t seem to be changing. While the government enacts different plans in order to combat hunger, they don’t seem to be getting to the root of the problem. They are focusing on more cans of food, instead of the human being. “Fifty million Americans exist without enough food to eat in a nation with more than enough food. If any other country were doing this to their children we would be at war.” The problem isn’t a lack of food, but of inequality (and in some cases education). While we need to continue education on healthy living–healthy nutrition and exercise–we need to recognize there is an inequality in America between wealth and food insecurity.