By Janie Singleton
President, Texas Food Bank Network
“An Epidemic of Obesity”
— Amarillo Globe-News
“Food Donations Needed to Keep up With Demand”
— San Antonio Express News
“Soaring Expenses Send Thousands of New Faces to Charities”
— Dallas Morning News
“Childhood obesity is serious problem requiring serious answers”
— Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
“Families, Children Showing up in Record Numbers at Food Bank”
— KETK Tyler
The recent drumbeat of headlines has been dramatic. At a glance, the health of Texan children appears to be under siege by two very different problems: obesity and hunger.
But look closer, and the two problems appear remarkably similar:
• One in five Texas children is medically obese (i).
• One in four Texas children lives in a household without enough food (ii).
• Texas schoolchildren suffer from high rates of overweight, becoming less fit (iii) and less likely to consume healthy food (iv) as they age.
• Children in households without enough food are more likely to have cognitive, motor (v), emotional and behavioral (vi) problems, exhibit multiple health deficienciesvii, viii and perform poorly in school (ix).
• As today’s children become adults, they will raise the number of obese Texas adults to 46.8%, lowering productivity and increasing health care costs to employers equaling $3.3 billion annually (x, xi).
• As today’s children become adults, they will also exhibit lowered productivity and increased health care costs as a result of hunger, contributing to a statewide cost equaling $9.8 billion annually (xii).
Why are these problems so similar? How are they linked?
“Flip Sides” of the Malnutrition Coin…Landing in the Same Hands
Why do hunger and obesity occur in the same communities, even the same families?
Poverty is a “high-risk factor” for obesity in Texas youth, as well as for hunger (xiii). Among Texas school districts, hunger and lack of fitness are both associated with higher poverty rates (xiv). Hispanic and African-American schoolchildren in Texas are the most likely to suffer from both hunger and being overweight (xv). Nationally, hunger, poverty and weight problems among children have been linked in many studies (xvi, xvii, xviii, xix, xx, xi).
Why is this? Both problems are “flip sides” of the same coin: a lack of healthy food in the home.
In 2006, 31% of low-income Texans reported being unable to feed their children balanced meals “sometimes” or “often”xxii. Without the means to purchase enough food, these families adapt “coping” mechanisms such as reducing the quality of food purchased (xxiii).
Sadly, such strategies make financial sense.
Energy-dense junk foods cost an average of $1.76 per 1,000 calories, while nutritious, fresh, unprocessed foods cost $18.16 per 1,000 calories. In recent years, the cost of nutritious foods has risen faster than the price of junk food, pushing these items further out of the reach of low-income families (xxiv). As an example, the average household served by the Texas Food Bank Network makes just $9,000 in annual income (xxv) – and spends only $794 on nutritious foods. In contrast, the average Texas household makes $44,922 annually (xxvi), and spends $1,260 on the same food – a gap of $466 (xxvii). As a result, low income families consume less healthy foods like fresh produce, which are associated with healthier weight and diet outcomes (xxviii).
“Fruits and vegetables are becoming luxury goods.”
—Adam Drewnowski, Nutritionist, University of Washington
Addressing Childhood Nutrition with Education and Access
The attention being paid to obesity and diet-related disease has resulted in several new initiatives to educate Texans on healthy eating. However, there has been very little attention paid to consumer access to these nutritious foods.
It makes little sense to lecture families on healthy eating if they do not have access to healthy food. These are the same families served by the Texas Food Bank Network. Every year, our nineteen food banks and food rescue organizations partner with over 3,600 local agencies to feed more than 681,000 children in low-income and rural communities across Texas.
Special programs like weekend backpacks, Kids Cafes, and family pantries offer proven venues for attracting and feeding children in need.
Demand for these programs has risen 11-12% in the last year alone (xxix).
According to a study by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the most effective interventions to lessen obesity and hunger should involve the direct distribution of healthy food or food-purchasing power (xxx). By harnessing the reach, efficiency and community trust of food banks to distribute healthy food, Texas can reduce childhood hunger and increase childhood health, ensuring a brighter future for our state.
i 2008. “F as in Fat.” Trust for America’s Health, PDF.
ii 2008. 2006 Current Population Survey data calculated by TFBN.
iii 2008. Data & press release. Texas Education Agency, PDF.
iv 2007. Perez, A., et. al. “Differences in Food Consumption and Meal Patterns in Texas School Children by Grade.” Preventing Chronic Disease. 2007 April; 4(2): A23.
v 2008. Rose-Jacobs, R., et. al. “Household food insecurity: Associations with at-risk infant and toddler development.” Pediatrics 2008; 121:65-72.
vi 2003. Stormer A and Harrison GG. “Does household food insecurity affect cognitive and social development of kindergarteners?” California Center for Population Research, University of California—Los Angeles, Nov. 2003.
vii 2004. Cook JT, Frank DA, Berkowitz C, et al. “Food Insecurity is Associated with Adverse Health Outcomes Among Human Infants and Toddlers.” Journal of Nutrition. 2004; 134:1432-1438.
viii 2006. Skalicky A, Meyers A, Adams W, et al. Child Food Insecurity and Iron Deficiency Anemia in Low-Income Infants and Toddlers in the United States. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2006;10(2):177-185.
ix 1998. Kleinman, R., et. al. “Hunger in Children in the United States: Potential Behavioral and Emotional Correlates.” Pediatrics, Vol. 101 No. 1 January 1998, p. e3.
x 2007. Combs, S. “Counting Costs & Calories.”
xi 2006. “Texas Obesity Policy Portfolio.” TX DSHS, PDF.
xii 2007. Brown, L. “The Economic Cost of Domestic Hunger.” Sodexho Foundation, Webpage.
xiii2008. Castellon, M. “The Economics of Obesity in Texas: One Year Later.” Fiscal Notes, 5/08, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Webpage.
xiv2008. Texas Education Agency, Ibid.
xv2004. Holscher, D., et. al. Ibid.
xvi2004. Drewnowski, A. & Spector, SE. “Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004;79:6 –16, PDF.
xvii2001. Townsend, M., et. al. “Food Insecurity Is Positively Related to Overweight in Women.” Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131:1738-1745.
xviii 1999. Olson, C. “Nutrition and Health Outcomes Associated with Food Insecurity and Hunger.” Journal of Nutrition. 1999;129:521-524.
xix 2003. Jimenez-Cruz, A, et. al. “Obesity and hunger among Mexican-Indian migrant children on the US–Mexico border.” International Journal of Obesity (2003) 27, 740–747.
xx 2002. “Food Insufficiency and Prevalence of Overweight Among Adult Women.” Nutrition Insights, USDA CNPP, PDF.
xxi 2005. Lin, B. “Nutrition and Health Characteristics of Low-Income Populations: Body Weight Status.” USDA Economic Research Service, PDF.
xxii 2008. 2006 Current Population Survey data calculated by TFBN.
xxiii 2007. Parker, S., et. al. “Food Choices and Coping Strategies During Periods of Perceived Food Shortage: Perspectives from Four Racial/Ethnic Groups.” Journal of Extension, Oct. 2007, 45(5), Webpage.
xxiv 2007. Monsivais, P. & Drewnowski, A. “The Rising Cost of Low-Energy-Density Foods.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(12): 2071-2076.
xxv 2006. “Hunger In America 2006: State Report Prepared for Texas.” Mathematica, Inc., PDF.
xxvi 2006. American Community Survey data. Webpage.
xxvii 2007. BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey data calculated by TFBN.
xxviii 2005. Guthrie, J., et.al. “Understanding Economic and Behavioral Influences on Fruit and Vegetable Choices.” Amber Waves, 4/05, USDA Economic Research Service, Webpage.
xxix 2008. TFBN internal data.
xxx 2006. TX DSHS, Ibid.