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Why It Is In Our Best Economic Interest to Fight Obesity

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Obesity, poverty, and children

Not only is the present workforce getting wider—our future workforce is also increasingly overweight. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this country, with approximately 3,600 new cases of type 2 diabetes cropping up yearly in children—once considered a portion of the population that rarely, if ever, suffered from that affliction. According to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, if we continue along this path, one-third of all children born after 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

Childhood obesity and overweight rates are especially high in families living below the poverty line. Whereas one in three children in the general population is considered overweight or obese, a staggering 44.8 percent—almost half—of children in poverty fall into these categories. Many researchers argue that this trend is in part due to the higher prices of healthier, perishable foods such as fruit and vegetables when compared to foods with long shelf lives, including chips and soda. In other words, “families get fatter as they buy cheaper and less healthy foods in order to try to fill up.”

Hunger and obesity are closely linked for many of these families living below the poverty line. Though they can take advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program designed to help them put food on the table, oftentimes the program benefits don’t cover more expensive foods such as fresh produce, so they are forced to choose the cheaper and less healthy food items. There are also plenty of people living in poverty who would perhaps rather eat more healthful foods but live in areas called food deserts—places that just don’t have access to foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables because full-service grocery stores don’t exist within a reasonable radius.

How community schools could help

One way the Center for American Progress believes we can help lift these families out of poverty and make healthier options more available to them is to pair antipoverty strategies with schools. These so-called community schools enable teachers, principals, and other staff to “concentrate on what’s happening in the classroom with the knowledge that students’ ‘outside’ needs are being addressed.”

It is well-documented that poor students are extremely affected in the classroom by issues related to poverty and that the malnutrition and other food issues that many poor students face cause a lack of concentration and motivation in school. But one problem families in poverty face when trying to take part in programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is accessibility—meaning many Americans don’t know about or can’t easily qualify for these programs, or if they do figure it out, they choose not to participate because of the stigma surrounding social welfare programs.

Schools are well-positioned to deal with these issues because they have the best access to poor students, are entrenched in communities and thus are familiar institutions, and have already-established relationships with poor students and their families. These schools are a great way to connect families with programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance program, and other healthy food bank resources for families that need help.

Other schools also have experience providing services to needy families in off-peak times—federal programs in place make it possible for these schools to provide meals for poor children after school and over the summer, when many kids go hungry or are forced to choose cheap, unhealthy options because they can’t access or afford a well-balanced meal.

Centralizing these antipoverty programs under one roof—in schools—can combat the issues of accessibility and stigma, and will help relieve the pressure many families feel, which in turn will alleviate stress for poor students. At the same time it will help families make better, healthier lifestyle choices, all of which leads to healthier children and thus better students.

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46 comments

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7:14AM PDT on Apr 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:24PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Actually, people DO choose to become fat. with every fattening food they eat, with every skipped workout, with every bad choice. They choose that lifestyle. You do not simply wake up fat. Period. The people who CHOOSE this life look unhealthy and often look disgusting. They set a very bad example for their children. They are not healthy and sometimes are so large they have to draw disability. If they have a LEGITAMENT reason (thyroid issues ect) that is different, but even then there are others in their place who have chosen to take charge and be healthy

5:35AM PDT on Aug 3, 2012

Obesity is a public health issue. It would help to get more vegetables and fruit into "food deserts". Support your local soup kitchen and/or community garden. Willimantic is lucky enough to have both and needs both because it has a LOT of poor persons.

9:32AM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

Gee that's a tough one but it boils down to obese people are symbols of human greed and laziness and the human race should be collectively embarrassed to have so many fat slobs running around in the world when children starve every day

1:32PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

short term, there's money in obesity

7:28PM PDT on Jun 1, 2012

So why are there so many poor people in this country? Seems that perhaps this is the first and foremost topic that should be addressed here. I don't see obesity as a problem in Europe. I do see it in Australia and the UK (ok, they're in Europe, but talk to a Brit, and they love their little island to be something different, and the rest of Europe mutually agrees with them). Back to the topic at hand. Maybe this country needs to omit the cheaper food option altogether. Could do loads of good for the environment, too. There, a double whammy. I actually think that once all the "non-foods" in the supermarket have gone, prices of real food will drop, as things such as corn etc. will no longer need to be grown in such mass production that there will be more room for a versatile garden of vege's!

3:20PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Beth and Monika, I doubt that anyone chooses to become fat.

What is at issue, is the fact that when it becomes abundantly clear that one is beginning to lose the battle of the bulge...they choose to do nothing but continue to eat all the wrong foods and too much of it.

Personally, I have a reoccurring nightmare, it goes like this.

I am in a WalMart store, innocently I am walking down an isle when all of a sudden I realize that I cannot exit the isle due to two rather large women, munching on full, uncooked chickens, one still had the feathers on it. While planning my escape, I turned, when I realize there are three more on the opposite end of the isle. Rats, I promised God that I would never again use his name in vain, at least not while eating. Unless the food was really good.

For a moment, I thought that I might be able to distract the herd and slip by, I reached for a case of Mac and Cheese, I threw the few boxes down but they bounced of the stock shelves and all of a sudden all 5 of these women moved in on the boxes, like a group of sub-compacts and there was this horrible sound, that of a crash.

The good news is the doctors feel that I might once again regain use my arms and legs.

God, forgive me, I have come to hate fat people. Save the nation, bring in the drones, level all WalMarts on a busy, 2 for 1 lard sale. That ought to rid of near ½ of the herd, though it might cause the earth to shift on its axis.

3:19PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Beth and Monika, I doubt that anyone chooses to become fat.

What is at issue, is the fact that when it becomes abundantly clear that one is beginning to lose the battle of the bulge...they choose to do nothing but continue to eat all the wrong foods and too much of it.

Personally, I have a reoccurring nightmare, it goes like this.

I am in a WalMart store, innocently I am walking down an isle when all of a sudden I realize that I cannot exit the isle due to two rather large women, munching on full, uncooked chickens, one still had the feathers on it. While planning my escape, I turned, when I realize there are three more on the opposite end of the isle. Rats, I promised God that I would never again use his name in vain, at least not while eating. Unless the food was really good.

For a moment, I thought that I might be able to distract the herd and slip by, I reached for a case of Mac and Cheese, I threw the few boxes down but they bounced of the stock shelves and all of a sudden all 5 of these women moved in on the boxes, like a group of sub-compacts and there was this horrible sound, that of a crash.

The good news is the doctors feel that I might once again regain use my arms and legs.

God, forgive me, I have come to hate fat people. Save the nation, bring in the drones, level all WalMarts on a busy, 2 for 1 lard sale. That ought to rid of near ½ of the herd, though it might cause the earth to shift on its axis.




2:57PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Beth and Monika, I doubt that anyone chooses to become fat.

What is at issue, is the fact that when it becomes abundantly clear that one is beginning to lose the battle of the bulge...they choose to do nothing but continue to eat all the wrong foods and too much of it.

Personally, I have a reoccurring nightmare, it goes like this.

Don't get me started about shopping at Walmart. All of a sudden you spot two rather large women blocking your path, you turn to flee and realize that there are 3 more, what you do?

9:13AM PDT on May 30, 2012

Actually Monica, you did say that.

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