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American Hunger, by the Numbers

As I report in next month’s National Geographic feature, “The New Face of Hunger,” millions of American families are struggling with a new kind of hunger. Some of the increase can be traced to a change in definition; in the 1960s, America equated hunger with physical starvation. By the 2000s, though, researchers started asking whether people were skipping meals because they couldn’t afford to eat, coining the term “food insecurity” to replace hunger. And with wages stagnating and public support of commodity crops far exceeding that for produce, the number of food insecure Americans now far outstrips the number of those who were ever counted as “hungry.” But don’t take my word for it: The numbers speak for themselves.

How bad is the new American hunger?

Millions of people hungry in the U.S. in 1968   10

Millions of people food insecure in the U.S. in 2012   49 Read more

Childhood Obesity: Turning the Ship Around

Three days ago I met Tae-Young Nam. He’s a recent University of Wisconsin grad, who studied pre-medicine in college, and spent last year serving in Chicago public schools as a teaching assistant with City Year. He’s headed off this coming week to Anthony, New Mexico to become a FoodCorps service member. He’ll be teaching kids about healthy food, building and tending school gardens with them, and collaborating with school food staff to get high quality local food onto school lunch trays. Read more

Why Is the CEO of the Global Anti-Poverty Group CARE Joining the Board of Coca-Cola?

In its continuing frenzy to silence potential critics, Coca-Cola issued a press release recently that announced the following:

Helene D. Gayle, M.D., M.P.H., has been nominated to stand for election to the Company’s Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting of Shareowners in April.Dr. Gayle, 57, is President and CEO of CARE USA, a leading international humanitarian organization whose poverty fighting programs reached approximately 122 million people last year in 84 countries.

Why in the world would Dr. Gayle want to sit on the Coca-Cola Board of Directors when Coca-Cola’s export of non-nutritious, sugary drinks to the world’s poorest countries is causing a new set of chronic health problems for those living in poverty — including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and dental caries (cavities)? The U.S. is already dealing with the phenomenon of food insecure families suffering from obesity, thanks in good part to overconsumption of cheap soft drinks that are heavily marketed in our poorest communities. Read more

The Big Oversight In Our Obesity Conversation

It didn’t take long for the year’s first controversial health study to go viral. A new systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that carrying extra weight decreases the risk of death (those in the “overweight” category were six percent less likely to die than individuals at a “normal weight”). This is a stark contrast to the usual weight-related headlines, which identify excess weight as the root cause of various chronic diseases. Cue confusion and heated debates.

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The Obesity Paradox: Overfed But Undernourished

There was a time when corpulence was a sign of wealth and luxury. But in modern day Western countries, quite the opposite is true. In fact, a recent study found that fully one third of homeless people living in Boston are obese. “This study suggests that obesity may be the new malnutrition of the homeless in the United States,” wrote the researchers, led by Harvard Medical School student Katherine Koh, whose study is forthcoming in the  Journal of Urban Health.

And it’s not just the U.S. that is reporting these kinds of findings, a New Zealand study of preschoolers found that 82 percent did not get enough dietary fiber and 68 percent did not have enough long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in fish and nuts. Despite these nutritional deficiencies, the researchers also found that fully one-third of preschoolers are overweight or obese.

These findings highlight an interesting contradiction—obesity correlates with malnourishment. Read more

Community Leaders in Michigan Discuss Obesity Risks for Poor Children

The recent report on the nation’s skyrocketing obesity rates made the task of the Kalamazoo County Champions of Healthy Kids all the more urgent after its leaders learned that the major determinant of a family’s health is its social and economic status because it dictates the opportunities and resources available to them.

Champions, which promotes healthy eating and daily exercise for children throughout Kalamazoo County, was begun last year by the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo together with a coalition of community leaders from schools, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, and government. They met recently for their second annual summit at Western Michigan University. Read more

Big Apple Takes on Big Gulp

The controversy surrounding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent plan to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces ranges from praise for taking on “America’s expanding waistline” to deriding him as a “nanny” for infringing on our personal choices and freedoms. But what’s largely missing from the debate is a real critique of the true villain in this battle—Big Food. Read more

The Conundrum of the New School Lunch Regulations

On January 25, amid much fanfare, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released the new school lunch regulations [PDF] which have been over three years in the making. Early hopes that the original proposed rules, which were based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, would dramatically change school lunches from the pizza/chicken nugget/french fries model so commonly seen in school cafeterias, to something looking a little more like, well, food, were dashed when Big Food lobbyists were able to force changes in Congress allowing plenty of potatoes, and continuing the longstanding tradition of counting the sauce on pizza as a vegetable. Still, there will be some improvements. Read more

Paula Deen: From Market to Pharmacy

Paula Deen’s public admission that she has Type 2 diabetes and her follow-up announcement that she is also a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, and its diabetes drug, Victoza, has sparked an interesting debate about the deeper issues surrounding our food system—especially the impact it has on the many people diagnosed with diabetes. And according to Deen’s comments on the Today show, she implies to her millions of fans, that the primary ways to deal with this largely diet-related disease are through personal responsibility and pharmaceuticals. Read more