Part 1: 81st Texas Legislative Priority
February 12, 2009 § 1 Comment
Advocacy and Online Marketing Director
Address the obesity epidemic by improving children’s access to healthy foods. Define the Problem:
There is a staggering number of obese and food insecure children in Texas. One in five children is overweight or obese, and one in four children live in households where there is not enough to eat. Half of those on food stamps in Texas are children. While it may seem paradoxical for these two situations to exist in the same body, they are in fact, quite complimentary. The highest rates of obesity occur among individuals with the highest poverty rates and the least education. The obesity rates for “poor” and “near-poor” people stand at 36 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively. In comparison, the overall average obesity rate for “non-poor” is 29.2 percent (Source: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports).
Access to quality, nutritious food is a challenge for low-income families:
Low-income neighborhoods are often characterized by a lack of full-service grocery stores, but have easy access to small convenience stores, fast food chains, and other sources of low-nutritional value foods. But even with access, price is still a factor in making those healthy choices.
Tough choices – feel satisfied or eat healthy:
Low-income families will often compromise with their food budget because, unlike rent, utilities or health care costs, it is the most flexible. And food with low nutritional value is cheaper. A University of Washington study showed that higher-calorie, energy-dense foods cost on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories, compared with $18.16 per 1,000 calories for low-energy but nutritious foods. That’s almost ten times more expensive! These low-quality calories, however, provide that full, satisfied feeling necessary to keep hunger pains at bay.
The problem with the Thrifty Food Plan:
The Thrifty Food Plan, the USDA’s national standard for a nutritious diet at a minimal cost, is the used as the basis for determining maximum food stamp allotments. Most recently, the cost of foods in the Thrifty Food Plan are rising faster than the average cost of food. This rapid inflation in food prices has created a gap between what the government deems necessary for a healthy diet, and the money allotted to purchase those foods.
While the Food Stamp program was intended to supplement diets, low-income families relying on this program for their entire food budget are put at a significant disadvantage in achieving a nutritionally sufficient diet, much less one that is optimal for health.
The effects of food insecurity and obesity:
In food-insecure households with children, it is often the parent who will go without food, or reduce their intake of food so that their children can eat. The effects of these coping strategies affect children not only in how they learn to eat, but also in the quality of the food they eat. Food insecurity can trigger stress responses leading to eating disorders, reduced physical activity, and depression, all of which may be related to weight gain.
The cost of not taking care of Texans:
Addressing poverty, food insecurity and obesity should be viewed as a social investment. It could mean billions of dollars in returns to society in the form of increased economic productivity, reduced expenditures on health care and the criminal justice system, and improvements to children’s well-being.
- Annie E Casey estimates that the 24 percent child poverty rate in Texas cost $57.5 billion in revenue in 2006 through lost earnings, increasing the criminal justice system, and emergency healthcare.
- The estimated cost of obesity to Texas businesses in 2005 was $3.3 billion, and if nothing is done to curb the problem, this could reach $15.8 billion by 2025. (Source: “Counting Costs and Calories” published by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in 2005)
- In 2005, Texas Medicaid paid more than $200 million in claims for cardiovascular disease. (Source: Texas Medicaid Program, HHSC)
Define the Issue:
Being healthy takes much more than knowing what to eat and having an active lifestyle. When families don’t have access to the right foods, they cannot put into practice healthy eating knowledge, nor have the fuel to support exercise and fitness routines. To have healthy adults, able to be productive members of society, we must start with healthy children, and ensure they have a good foundation to support lifelong learning and a healthy quality of life. Ensuring children live in food secure households is not enough. It must be good food so that children can actively learn and practice healthy behaviors.