Hunger in America – Lessons Learned
In 2008, Los Angeles city council unanimously voted to ban fast food restaurants from selected low income areas for one year to battle obesity among school children. This banning was explained at the time by the NY Times as the reason governments were created:
It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Flash forward to 2012, the Conservative Commune reports that this ‘article of faith’ was essentially bogus. Two concurrent studies revealed in their findings that low income areas were awash with available food as compared to higher income areas. One of the researchers dubbed it a ‘food swamp’, not a desert.
While obesity among children and adults is a serious problem, sticking with facts and evidence-based actions is always preferable than acting on an ‘article of faith’.
Obesity is mostly curable – just watch the contestants shrink on The Biggest Loser or investigate the booming business of bariatric surgery. Today, obese and morbidly obese individuals have a range of options when they are truly ready to make a change in their lives.
As an aside, even the banned fast food restaurants provided health alternatives to their fat and calorie laden fare:
In a related nutrition issue, the same area that was labeled a ‘food desert’ has a 16.8% food insecurity rate during 2009 and 2010.
The same time period when fast food restaurants were being barred from business, 1.6 million residents of Los Angeles were facing hunger/food insecurity. I suspect many of these people resided in the selected areas where the restaurants were banned.
A cure for hunger, unfortunately, cannot be found in surgery or the latest health food fad. Hunger and food insecurity is a more persistent and harder to cure. ConAgra Foods gets how invasive this problem is in America. ConAgra created the ConAgra Foods Foundation to raise national awareness of this problem and to bring food and hope to those struggling with hunger or food insecurity. All of us can help ConAgra achieve their goals via their Hunger Ends Here campaign. Simply look for participating brands, find the Feeding America code on the package and enter the code online to donate one meal through Feeding America’s network of local food banks.
There are actions that can be done to alleviate both issues. By employing evidence based best practices communities can make a difference:
- Create safe areas for recreational exercise for both adults and children. These depressed areas are not food deserts, but outdoor exercise deserts. Kids and adults in these areas are more prone to sedentary activities because of perceptions of an inability to access community centers or gyms.
- One way to create a safer outdoor environment is to invest in community gardening. In addition to another resource for residents to obtain locally grown fruits and vegetables, there is a growing amount of data that points to lowered crime rates when a community gardens are present.
- Create generous business incentives encouraging local investment in these communities. Feeding America.org has noted that unemployment more than poverty is a leading indicator for food insecurity in families.
Setting people free from obesity and hunger starts by building community, not by banning institutions. A lesson I hope that has been learned by the LA City Council and policy makers nationally.