A report published by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2020 found that 10.5% of US households were “food insecure.” The report also states that 7.6% of households with children face food insecurity. At the same time, a report of Confidence in America’s Health said that 42.4% of American adults and 19.3% of Americans between the ages of two and 19 were obese. While these statistics may seem to contradict each other, they are related.
People who reside in food deserts – areas where at least 33% of the population has to travel more than a mile in urban areas, or 10 miles in rural areas, to reach a grocery store – are more likely to suffer from obesity, and therefore obesity-related health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, as good as food insecurity. Food desserts are also determined by household and neighborhood resources – including available transport and average income – meaning that people living along or below the poverty line are likely to live in these areas.
This is a national epidemic, and for many Pitt students, it is also a lived experience. There aren’t any full-service grocery stores within a reasonable walking distance of campus, and Pitt’s Forbes Street Market can hardly be considered affordable.
The problem is not isolated, it also extends to all parts of the city. For example, about 63,000 Pittsburgh residents in 2019 experienced inconsistent access to food. There are initiatives – like the free farmer’s market Black Urban Gardeners and Pittsburgh Farmer, developed in Homewood and the Hill District – to address the situation, especially in black neighborhoods that have historically underserved and are twice as likely facing food insecurity compared to whites.
The bitter reality is that the food crisis in the United States is caused by many reasons – food deserts, lack of healthy and affordable options, and unreliable school meals.
Although about 42 million Americans to receive SNAP benefits every year, many people are still unable to afford nutritious foods they need to meet their needs. Since processed foods are consistently kept at low prices – in part because the the government subsidizes their ingredients, such as corn and soybeans – diets of low-income households consist mainly of these elements. But raw products, what public health officials urge us to eat for a balanced diet, are massively unavailable low-income consumers.
Why is it that the foods we are constantly told not to eat or abuse are what are available to us? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the government to subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables, making them affordable for everyone? Frankly, it’s exhausting trying to figure this out. If the organizations that make the majority of food decisions in the country do not fully recognize the current situation, then how will things change? My answer – I do not know.
In this country, households with children experience higher levels of food insecurity than those who do not, which means that meals provided by schools are necessary for children’s livelihoods. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 20.1 million children received free lunches, many of which colored children. This means that fresh, nutritious food in schools is essential for maintaining a balanced diet for children. Unfortunately, the reality is far from this.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in 2017 showing that only 7.1% of high school students get enough fruit in their diet, and only 2% get enough vegetables.
The situation only escalated when the USDA offers new national guidelines for school meals in 2020. Suggestions included shocking descriptions – fries and some pasta could be served as a vegetable, for example. So not only are children’s choices for healthier options limited, but much of the food available to them. negatively impact their health.
On a third of Americans born after 2000 – the same children who don’t get enough fruits and vegetables – will develop early-onset type 2 diabetes. Among minority populations, the number climbs to one in two.
As for the Amerindians, more than 16% have diabetes – the upper among all American racial and ethnic groups, although they constitute only one 2% of the population. Illustrating the severity of this statistic, more than 60% of the indigenous majority counties were classified as having difficulty accessing enough food in a 2015 report.
Access to fresh food is considered a luxury for most people on reserves. Even when indigenous peoples have access to fresh food, the prices are often scandalous. For example, a prepackaged bag of apples can cost up to $ 15 and a head of cabbage $ 12.
These statistics seem to contradict each other: How could a person facing hunger also develop obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes?
People with obesity can simultaneously experience food inaccessibility and malnutrition. The connection between the two is often overlooked because it contradicts the outward appearance of the problem. When we think of malnutrition and hunger, we imagine people who are undernourished and visibly thin. But hunger comes in all shapes and sizes, and failing to recognize that it is extremely harmful and inherently fatphobe. Inaccessibility to food can be a major source of fuel for unhealthy eating, not necessarily an individual’s behavior.
Although we face this problem everywhere we go, there are things we can do to help. Start by checking Pitt’s own Plant2Plate – a program that emphasizes access to fresh food and grows it in a garden on campus. Other organizations to support are local food banks that distribute foods essential for a healthy diet. But above all, contact your representatives and let them know that investing in a healthy America should be a priority.
Without our contribution and action, food accessibility will continue to affect millions of people, including those in our community.
Grace DeLallo writes on social, environmental and political issues. Write to him at [email protected].