There is no greater sadness or travesty than stunting the human potential.
Threatening the health and development of children, food insecurity represents one of the most serious social and health-related issues in the United States.
Food insecurity affects 16 million children in this country, leaving one in five children hungry and without consistent access to nutrient-rich, healthful food.
In some food insecure households, families are left choosing less expensive, calorie-dense food; resulting in overweight children who are still lacking the healthy, nutrient-rich foods their bodies need.
A child can look overweight and yet still be hungry for nutrients, because limited income leads to a trade-off between food quantity and food quality
In this segment on Eat Right Radio
, Libby Mills discusses:
- The truth about the hunger/obesity paradox and the health and social impact of hungry children.
- How registered dietitian nutritionists are feeding hungry children to eliminate that hunger.
- How you can help make a difference.
Melanie Cole (Host): There is no greater sadness or travesty than stunting the human potential and threatening the health and development of children. Food insecurity represents one of the most serious social and health issues in the United States. My guest today is Libby Mills. She’s an entrepreneurial registered dietitian/nutritionist, culinary professional, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Welcome to the show, Libby. Tell us, what is the truth about the hunger-obesity paradox? And state what that is for the listeners.
Libby Mills (Guest): Melanie, I’m glad you asked, and I think the first place to start is really looking at food insecurity. It’s heartbreaking to think that anyone has to go hungry, especially a child. There are 16 million children in our country that are affected by hunger due to food insecurity. Let’s face it. Everyone should have food to eat, and no one should ever have to go hungry, yet many households just don’t have enough money or resources to guarantee that there’ll be enough food for everyone to eat. These people live in constant uncertainty, wondering if they will have food to eat or not. I don’t know about you, but when I have to work through lunch, all I can think about is when and what I’ll have for dinner that night, right? Anyway…
Melanie: That’s all I do all day anyway, Libby, is think about what I’m going to have for dinner all night. I know that it must be heartbreaking when it is a child. What’s the health and social impact of hungry children? It seems inconceivable to us with a fast food restaurant in every corner that there are children in this country that are literally starving, and yet obesity is such a huge problem with children these days.
Libby: It is. We’re so used to seeing hunger in the face of the children from Haiti or Somalia or Sierra Leone and countries where agricultural drought or perhaps natural disasters or where the drinking water is undrinkable, or perhaps even civil warfare has devastated social structures. But in this country, food and security looks a lot different. And the truth is about hunger and obesity, they’re linked for our children. In fact, hunger and obesity often occur in the same neighborhoods and the same families. These families really are making critical choices between nutrient-dense foods that are more expensive and less expensive foods that don’t have the same nutrients that children need to grow up the way they need to. It’s really a critical trade-off between food quantity and food quality. In fact, to bring this illustration to life, I was reading a published study in the December 13, 2013 BMJ Journal in which a meta-analysis study, they looked at dietary patterns and retail prices between the years 2000 and 2011. It found that on a 2000-calorie diet, healthy foods cost about $1.50 more than unhealthy options. Now, that doesn’t sound like much, but when you think about a family that already is limited in its income and you add that up for a year, that’s $550 per person, an extra $2,000 for a family of four just to eat healthy. You begin to see why this picture comes to pass. And in fact, I was doing some further reading and found some research by Adam Drew Limsky, and he asks the question, “What does $1 buy?” And you’ve got to hear this, because $1 can buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips, but only 250 calories from carrots. We know that carrots have lots of vitamins and nutrients that a cookie or perhaps a potato chip don’t have, not to mention the lack of extra fat that you would be getting from these higher-calorie, low-nutrient foods, a.k.a. junk food, compared to those carrots. So I think that research really brings to light that trade-off between quality and quantity that these people face on an everyday basis, which is so important in explaining why the hunger and obesity go together and why the hunger and obesity paradox exists. For the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we’ve made a really special point to bring this to light for people who want to understand it better with our downloadable infographic, Nourish to Flourish, which you can access on kidseatright.org. And it’s downloadable and it explains the situation so clearly in pictures.
Melanie: You see these dollar menus at all the junk food restaurants. Here a dollar menu, here a dollar menu, there. Then you hear people complain that they see people with food stamps going in and buying chips and candy and all these things. Is there a way to, without regulating what they have to buy using food stamps, for example, getting rice, getting canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, whatever is the healthiest way to get some of those nutrient-dense foods in as opposed to these things that just have nothing in them?
Libby: Absolutely. Education is key, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has made educating all people about nutrition and nutritious choices a top priority. That’s one of the biggest first steps that can take place. But understanding that for 25 to 37 cents, a person can buy snack packaged foods like cookies or cakes or chips and get, let’s say, 150 to 190 calories per serving, whereas they couldn’t afford vegetables or fruits for the same amount. For example, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables cost 39 to 66 cents per serving, and they just generally are more pricey. So, understanding where these people are coming from when you see them buying these snack foods is very critical. But certainly, guiding them towards those nutritious choices where they’re getting fiber and whole grains and beans and lentils, where they’re getting sustenance with that power pack of nutrition, all in one swoop, is definitely a critical step.
Melanie: What about supplementation? Is that on the table as a discussion of ways to get the nutrients, the vitamins, the minerals they need if they are not spending on the healthier choices?
Libby: Well, that’s certainly one option. However, if you’ve ever priced out supplementation at the store…
Melanie: It’s expensive.
Libby: Yeah, it’s an expensive way to go. The truth is it’s really not necessary. By choosing whole grains, by choosing calorie-rich, nutrient-rich beans, lentils, rice, these folks can basically balance their budget while getting the nutrients they need so that they do have some extra money to spend on vegetables. It’s been very interesting comparing prices at the store, because when vegetables are in season, they actually are more affordable. And if you watch the sales at the store, you can stock up or certainly purchase from week-to-week frozen vegetables that can be worked into dishes, like paired with pasta or rice or beans.
Melanie: Libby, how can listeners make a difference?
Libby: Listeners are so empowered right now. One of the most exciting things that listeners can do is they can actually try spending a week on a snap budget. And a snap budget is basically $31.50 a month and…
Melanie: Only have about a minute left, Libby.
Libby: Okay, so this equates to about $1.50 per meal. So they can try this out tracking their spending just to get a feel for what that’s like. Their experiences, they can blog, they can use social media or share with the newspapers or reach out to policymakers in Washington D.C. They can advocate for expanding school meal programs or supporting the SNAP program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They should also definitely check out kidseatright.org, where they will find lots of information and be able to reach out to a registered dietitian/nutritionist for advice, or perhaps bringing a Kids Eat Right program into their community.
Melanie: Thank you so much. The website is kidseatright.org. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our good friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening, and stay well.