Oral Presentation Australian & New Zealand Obesity Society 2014 Annual Scientific Meeting

Food Insecurity and Obesity in the U.S. – Flip Sides of the Same Malnutrition Coin (#43)

Joel Berg 1
  1. New York City Coalition Against Hunger, New York, NY, United States

Even though the U.S. is arguably the wealthiest country in world history, food insecurity ravages 49 million Americans – including nearly 17 million children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That equals one in seven Americans and one in five U.S. children. Caused by soaring inequality and the gutting of the government safety net, this often-overlooked mass epidemic harms health, hampers educations, traps families in poverty, and eviscerates hope, while sapping the U.S. economy of $167.5 billion annually, according to the Center for American Progress. Yet, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) and approximately 17% (or 13 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. Some incorrectly believe that the existence of widespread obesity proves that U.S. hunger doesn’t truly exist. Yet, not only are Americans frequently both obese and food insecure simultaneously, hunger actually is a key contributor to the growing obesity problem among low-income Americans. Hunger and obesity are flip sides of the same malnutrition coin. When people are on a limited budget, the easiest way to fill their stomachs is to purchase high-carbohydrate, high-fat, high-sodium foods that are cheaper to buy but more likely to cause obesity. Add to that the reality that most nutritious types of food aren’t even available in many low-income U.S. neighborhoods and you have a recipe for dietary failure. While many elites believe that the chief reason low-income people don’t eat more healthfully is that they is that they voluntarily choose to eat badly, the primary reason is that they simply can’t afford to eat differently. I will argue that fixing the economy and ensuring an adequate government nutrition safety will do far more to reduce hunger and obesity than would merely encouraging families to change their behaviors.