Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Obesity and Poverty

Thanks to ozplasmic from Worth1000 for the use of his image, "Duffer"

It’s too bad Shaqueal O’Neil’s reality show where he teaches a bunch of overweight children how to live healthier lives hasn’t taken off. The numbers of people overweight in the United States are staggering – and I really don’t think it’s a coincidence that these numbers go up as children’s’ test scores go down. I think that people just aren’t taught what healthy is anymore.

What is really interesting, and cause for alarm, is that obesity seems to becoming more and more a problem of the poor and middle class, those who can’t afford the private schools where nutrition is taught, or on a more basic level, fresh vegetables.

In my area you can get a box of macaroni for 1$. McDonald’s has the dollar menu where you can feast on fries and some chicken patty dish and fried cheese and other such things. That macaroni and a dollar brick of ‘processed cheese food’ can feed a family. I’ve seen people at McDonald’s splitting the sandwich among their kids for dinner.

Now, broccoli is anywhere from 1.49 – 2 dollars USD a head. I’ve seen it up even higher. All vegetables are much more costly than the starch and fats you can pick up at the dollar store.

I remember my diet growing up. We had that big brick of oddly orange government cheese. We had hot dogs and milk and a lot of macaroni and cheese. Once, I really wanted to help make dinner but ended up spilling the macaroni noodles in the sink when I was draining it. I remember crying as my mother yelled, scooping the noodles out of the sink, as that meant we wouldn't have as much for dinner.
There were times of bacon but more often than not it was tortillas and chili (which I couldn’t stomach) and meat loaf and hunger pangs. When we did have vegetables it was corn or succotash because – admit it – at every food drive this is what we, as kids, sneak out of the cupboard so we don’t’ have to eat it ourselves.

Notice what’s missing? Vegetables don’t keep well enough to be given out to the poor. The other foods do.

When I had to do my ‘observations’ in schools for my teaching certificate I was appalled at what I saw. This was the breakfast for those on the school breakfast program:

A soft pretzel
An apple
A carton of milk

The kids tossed the apple and milk, walked over to the vending machine and got some sugared drink, and sat down. When I asked a teacher about it she said that it fits the food groups – grains (the pretzel), dairy (the milk), and fruit (the apple).

Uhm, soft pretzel for breakfast? Snapple? No. But then, I remember my free lunch days and my favorite meal was the garlic breadsticks with a chunk of mozzarella and spaghetti sauce. All the food groups represented, right?

Food and poverty. From my own life there are definitely issues with it. Growing up food wasn’t a regular occurrence, and things such as chips and pizza were extreme luxuries. When extra money was had my brother and I would run down to the store and stock up on candy and soda and Cheetos. Sure, most kids buy candy, but we were in our teens and having ice cream for breakfast and pooling money for bacon extra cheese pizza and just stuffing our stomachs hoping to have some kind of comfort and feeling of normalcy. The minute food was available; we’d eat all of it.

So what are the problems here?

No education about healthy eating.
No real access or money to buy food that is healthy.
Emotional/psychological issues stemming from times of extreme poverty.

When I went vegetarian (I eat fish, so not full) my mother was incredibly pissed off. At first she claimed that it was because I was again trying to separate myself from the family. This happened in 10th grade, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a pork chop or beef. But now I realize part of her anger might have been the thought of how she would feed me. She had a regular job, not the best paying one, but we did have pork chops smothered in mushroom soup and fried chicken (Swanson) and mashed potatoes. But I didn’t consider the cost of vegetables, just that I loved (and still love) broccoli and spinach. I ended up eating a lot of pasta.

Vegetarianism is not an offer when the other choice is hunger, you know?

Are there solutions?

Well, our local greenmarket has started excepting food stamps (now the EBT or Electronic Benefits Transfer card). I know some organizations go into impoverished neighborhoods and teach nutrition. I think one of these is even bringing a farmers market to housing projects. There is at least a movement to improve school lunches.

But what of the movement to improve poverty and allow people on food stamps more money to buy fresh foods? What of the people to help those who have climbed out of poverty develop a healthy relationship with food? (Yea, I’m going over that in therapy too at times.)


Amel's Realm said...

Ahhhh...ironic indeed. Back in Indo I took fresh veggies for granted. In traditional markets, you can still get fresh veggies pretty cheap (they're usually WAY cheaper than meat).

However, I find that in Finland, fresh veggies are SO expensive. I'm on a grocery budget, so I can't afford to have fresh veggies every day. I switch to frozen veggies even though I wonder how good they are compared to fresh veggies.

But anyway, in a country like Finland, anything fresh would be SO expensive (especially in winter), so there's not much option (unless perhaps if I can find a decent job). For now I just count my blessings that I can still eat fresh veggies every now and then (either we buy them ourselves or we eat salad in our in-laws).

dawn said...

I never thought of the whole dollar thing but your right. I am not a vegetarian but I love my salad and veggies. Out of my three kids 2 eat salad like its going out of style and the third eats all his veggies. I have been thinking alot about weight recently and have started a diet. It amazes me how many calories are in everyday food. I am going to try to do it healthy well see. The gov't should mandate veggues on the food stamp system (with a better price of course) Obesity in kids is a hard fight and parents should be punished

Victorya said...

Dawn: What I'd like to see is certain 'foodstamps' or foods with no value attached - so say they get 50$ (and they are notoriously low payments) but then they get 4 vegetable. So the cost doesn't go into their normal fund. Then people will pick them up!

The same with milk and fruit. This way, even if the price raises, people don't have to compromise their health. Kind of like a forever food stamp.

Amel - It's tough going without fresh, isn't it? It's something that can be taken for granted so easily. I think frozen is the same nutritionally as fresh, if it's flash frozen once picked. But it never really feels the same, does it?

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Absolutely agree with your sentiments. Kids aren't as active as they used to be either. All those computer games they play nowadays. Lord that makes me sound old :-)

Paper Fan Club said...

Have you ever seen Jamie Oliver's series on bettering school lunches in the British school system? It's scary what passes as nutrition sometimes, and you can only blame it on the government/schools/the system because you can't blame it on kids who don't know any better. Sad.

dawn said...

thats a very good idea, I put a petition up on my blog please go sign. Thanks

Azhira said...

It's absolutely true... I prefer to eat organic, lots of veggies, etc. It's expensive. When I need to cut into the food budget, it goes down to ramen and potatoes or processed meats. Yick, but 1/5 of the cost.

Amel's Realm said...

Hey, Vic!!!

YES, frozen veggies NEVER taste as good as fresh veggies, but OK, at least I try to have my daily intake of veggies he he he...