Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Making Progress on Obesity: New CDC Study


Girl eating cropped
A young girl eats lunch at a soup kitchen in a scene from the documentary A Place at the Table. (Film still courtesy of Participant Media).

The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.

The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.

However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.

In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.

More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.

Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.

Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.

What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.

 

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