Blame or Shame? When It Comes to America’s Kids, Where Do We Stand?Posted: October 13, 2011 Filed under: children, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: children, food insecurity, hunger, obesity, Poverty 38 Comments
Don’t know about you but to me the blame game has hit the hyper-drive button. Whether it be Fundamentalists claiming that the country’s economic difficulties are God’s payback for licentious living or Herman Cain pointing to the unemployed as being responsible for their own unemployed status, the mounting accusations are deafening and ultimately unproductive. The Right blames the Left; the Left blames the Right. Libertarians blame anything that smacks of cooperative, interdependent governance, yearning for circa 1900, a Paradise Lost. And the Anarchists? They blame the world.
The one segment of the population that has virtually no voice over the current US economic tailspin are the children. But like any vulnerable, powerless group, they are caught in the crosshairs.
A recent headline not only caught my attention but stunned me by its implications. One in four American children are now categorized as “food insecure.” I initially misread this label as ‘hungry, absolutely food deprived.’
Not necessarily true.
According to a report sponsored by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) food insecurity is defined as follows:
Limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (Anderson, 1990).
The IOM points out that this ‘insecurity’ can be cyclical in nature. Mom and/or Dad have work one month with adequate hours and money to buy food for the family and the next month their hours are cut. Less hours, less money, less food. Or, as is the case for many middle-class families, the jobs they once depended on simply vanish and nutrition suffers. Or a family is living on a meager monthly wage that runs out before the month is over; so food is available at the beginning of the month and in short supply as the month goes on. Walmart has confirmed this cyclical nature, reporting that their customers, many of whom are low-wage or government-assisted households, are running out of funds before the end of each month. The company has spotted the pattern in their sales records—thin at the end of the month, a big spike at the start. The rising cost of food has only complicated matters.
But wait! Haven’t we been awash in data warning about the growing problem with childhood obesity? Michelle Obama has used her office as First Lady to address not only the problem but accompanying health concerns–diabetes, for instance, a silent killer and a condition that’s expensive to treat. How can we have food insecurity and obesity at the same time? A paradox, for sure.
Again, not necessarily.
A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Drewnowski A, Specter SE. Poverty and obesity) indicates that meager incomes will affect a family’s behavior when it comes to food. When faced with bills to pay—rent, utilities, expenses to get to and from work, etc.—a family head will limit funds to those needs where the cost is not fixed. This behavior directly impacts the purchase and selection of food. When purchases are made, low-income families will steer towards calorie-dense foods, selections high in sugar and fat but low in cost.
You gotta do what you gotta do, as my Mama once said.
Though there is contradictory data for the effects of calorie-dense food on children, particularly young children, we do have data indicating the link between food selection and obesity in low-income women. This from the IMO:
Researchers and the public increasingly are recognizing that obesity and food insecurity co-exist in the same families, communities, and even the same individuals. For example, recent research suggests that household food insecurity may be related to increased weight in women.
The paradox is explained, at least in part: food insecurity is linked to poverty and particular food selection, which can play havoc on weight. This makes sense to any of us who have had weight problems [Peggy Sue raises her hand because of a childhood weight problem]. Genetics, metabolism, emotional factors, physical activity are certainly factors, too. But food selection plays an important role. Nutritional experts are now seriously questioning the sort of foods we’re feeding our kids in school programs and other government-assisted nutritional outreaches.
Finally, symbolizing the growing number of American kids in poverty and those tumbling into the ‘food insecurity’ category, Sesame Street has added a new, cameo-appearing Muppet—Lily, the hungry kid. This move has already come under attack by PBS critics, who claim that this is simply another ploy to reinforce the Nanny State, a pulling of heart strings by left-of-center activists.
But here’s what we know: 25% of American children are now categorized as ‘food insecure.’ That represents 17 million children, a number which spikes during the summer when school is in recess. Food insecurity can result in cyclical, end-of-the-month nutritional deficits and/or possible obesity because of calorie-dense food selection. Our children, all our children, represent the future.
Who do we blame? It’s easy, even tempting to point fingers or take self-righteous, politically-charged stands.
But if we continue the blame game, point fingers without pushing to alleviate our rising poverty rates and the subsequent food insecurity of our children? Then shame on us.
Additional information can be found at Feeding America:
The stats on rising poverty and food insecurity in the US are nothing short of . . . staggering.
And check out Map the Meal Gap, where you can see how your state, your region measures up in food security/insecurity statistics:
A final note: I am very happy to be joining the fine staff of Sky Dancing. Everyone has been kind, encouraging and helpful as I put my toe in the water. This is a new venture for me, a different sort of writing than I normally do. But I’m looking forward to join the discussion and analyses from a different vantage point. And learn as I go.