Hunger, obesity discussion must continue

Childhood obesity and hunger may seem like polar-opposite issues, but these epidemics often stem from the same root. Some 50 million people in the U.S. are in need of food assistance; one in four children lack access to nutritious food.

The fallout from hunger — rampant obesity, growing cases of Type II diabetes, a growing need for food assistance to families — is examined in the documentary “A Place at the Table,” which is being screened Wednesday by Rivertown Film. Journal News food editor Liz Johnson will lead a discussion, which will no doubt touch on societal and political aspects of food.

Labels like “food deserts” and “food insecure” — terms used by the USDA — are entering the general lexicon. “Food deserts” are urban areas or rural towns where fresh produce and other nutritious food is unavailable; “food insecurity” measures a person’s or family’s limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. “The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease,” according to the USDA. More than 23 million households receive food stamps, called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, USDA data show.

Basically, hunger in America means that people often can’t get food that’s good for them, mostly because of cost. As the directors of “A Place at the Table” explained to food editor Johnson, “$3 buys only about 300 calories of nutritious food, and about 3,000 calories of ramen noodles, chips and soda.”

Diane Serratore, executive director of People to People, Rockland County’s largest food pantry, said that she often hears experts say that “food pantries play a key role, but this is not a way to solve this.” She agrees that bigger policy issues — education, job training, safe housing — are part of the picture. “Hungry kids can’t learn. And if kids can’t get a good education, we’ll be feeding them for the rest of their lives, too,” Serratore said, adding, “resources dwindle and need increases.”

The discussion must continue, with policy makers and political leaders at the table.

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