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Why Doesn't the United States Rank Higher in Healthy Eating?

WIC_at_farmers_market
Federal nutrition programs are finding ways to connect the people who rely on them with a healthy selection of foods. Farmers markets that accept food stamps and WIC give program recipients better access to fresh produce (Jim Stipe).

The United States is one of the richest nations in the world, so it reasons that it would do better than most countries in providing access to fresh, nutritious food, right? Not according to a new Oxfam report on the best and worst places in the world to eat—the United States ranks 21st out of 125 countries.

The study evaluated countries based on four factors: Do people have enough to eat? Can people afford to eat? Is food of good quality? What is the extent of unhealthy outcomes of people’s diet? Wealthy nations had an automatic edge in the rankings, but levels of obesity and diabetes kept the United States out of the overall top 10, and placed it in the bottom 10 of countries where diet positively influences health. The United States is a land of plenty when it comes to cheap, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient food, and there's no shortage of expensive health food stores and restaurants, either. Still, options that are both healthy and affordable are more difficult to come by.

Oxfam policy adviser Max Lawson told NPR that the obesity and diabetes levels in the United States are largely driven by poverty, rather than excess. "Food is very, very cheap in the U.S., compared to most countries," he explains. "But the fact is you end up with people malnourished in one of the richest countries because they don't have access to fresh vegetables at a cheap enough price to make a balanced diet."

Federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP) and WIC, are our nation's best tools in making healthy food more accessible to everyone in the United States. Unfortunately, both programs have faced deep cuts and harmful changes over the last several months. Last week, a group of doctors warned members of Congress of the serious public health consequences that would accompany steep cuts to SNAP.

"If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition," Dr. Deborah Frank, of Boston Medical Center, told the Associated Press. "People don't make the hunger-health connection."

Even with such programs in place to help people afford healthier diets, benefits don't always stretch far for struggling families, and many people live in food deserts, without easy access to a grocery store. Despite these realities, Congress is still considering cuts to SNAP.

If you want to know if your members of Congress are voting in support of vital programs that keep people healthy and prevent them from going hungry, see Bread for the World's 2013 congressional scorecard. Also visit Bread for the World's action center to learn more about what you can do to ensure that everyone has access to enough healthy, nutritious food.

 

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