Like my friend and colleague Brady Koch, I too am taking the Pound for Pound Challenge to become healthier by losing weight in 2010. And to help raise a few bucks for Second Harvest Food Bank.
And like most people who set out to shed excess weight, I’ve developed some personal strategies and goals around the process. Naturally, most of these involve changes in the choices that I make about both food and exercise. As I think about the changes I’m making in these two areas, I am reminded just how fortunate I am to be in an economic position that allows me to choose and purchase foods that are healthier for me.
So many of our neighbors in Central Florida face extremely limited food choices based simply on their ability to pay. They must stretch their resources to buy the less-expensive, less-nutritious foods that we know can contribute to obesity and a wide range of associated health problems.
The University of Washington’s Center for Public Health Nutrition has conducted a number of fascinating studies on social and economic disparities in health and the links between obesity and poverty.
One of these studies (2007) examined the price, calories, and relative nutritional value of more than 400 typical grocery items. For the items at the low-end of the nutritional scale (high sugar, starch, empty calories— think “junk” food), it was found that the average cost per 1,000 calories was $1.73. At the other end of that nutritional spectrum, the highly nutritious foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, etc. averaged more than $17.00 per 1,000 calories.
Since a typical family of four (two adults and two children) has a total weekly calorie need of somewhere around 50,000 calories, it’s not difficult to see how low-income families must make less healthy food choices just to meet the calorie need on the money they have. Instead of spending $4 on one red bell pepper, for example, they’ll use those same dollars to purchase 6 boxes of macaroni and cheese.
Other studies have shown that people in low-income families often exercise up to 25% less than others in our population; a result of living in neighborhoods that feel less than safe. Think “less time outdoors.” Instead of going out for a brisk walk, bike ride,or tennis, many people are inside their apartments with the doors locked.
Why is it important to think about these things? Well, I believe it’s important because of the pervasiveness of the negative stereotypes that exist of obese people who live in poverty in our country. We sometimes hear sentiments along the lines of “How dare these people presume to ask me or anyone else for assistance with food, when they’re obviously eating too much already?”
I understand the counterintuitive nature of this issue, but when the facts are examined, there is simply no question that millions of Americans don’t walk on the same playing field as others do when it comes to the nutritional quality of one of life’s most basic necessities. I hope that more people will take that into consideration before they pass a quick judgment.
At Second Harvest Food Bank, we’re working hard to make certain that more low-income families than ever before have access to the high-nutrition type foods that they must routinely walk past in the supermarket. We have a long way to go in this regard, but like a familiar grocery retailer’s familiar slogan, we are definitely “getting better all the time.”
Wish me luck on my weight transformation—I’m going to need it:).
VP of Development