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Posted: September 19, 2013 7:30 p.m.

Morgan: In US, it's obesity vs. hunger

America faces a stark confluence of issues. On one hand, we face rising levels of overweight and obese adults, toddlers, children and adolescents that threaten our future in many ways.

Then, this week, there was to be a showdown in the U.S. House to determine to what degree this rich country will feed its poorest and hungriest citizens: the elderly, families with children, the disabled and the chronically unemployed for whom there are no jobs.

Since the recession began in 2005, food banks and food stamps are sustaining even people with jobs and people who’ve never before sought assistance, according to Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

In fact, syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker quotes Bolling in reporting that half of those seeking food assistance today are people with jobs. Obviously, those jobs don’t pay enough to feed them and their families, and jobs are hard to find these days.

You may have read the numbers reported by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC): Almost 70 percent of American adults are overweight; over 35 percent are obese. Almost 32 percent of children and adolescents are overweight; almost 17 percent are obese. More than 30 percent of low-income toddlers are overweight or obese.

Disparities exist between genders, racial/ethnic divides, age, geography and socioeconomic status.

The heaviest people are in the South and Midwest, and research in 2009 reported by FRAC says the heaviest people have gotten heavier in the past decade.

A study co-sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2012 and reported in The Washington Post says that if present trends continue, by 2030 at least 44 percent of the population in every state could be obese. Think of the enormous impact on health care, national productivity and national security.

There are many reasons FRAC cites for this growing health crisis among lower-income individuals and families. Some are: 1) low-income neighborhoods lack access to full-service grocery stores and fresh food options; 2) healthier food is generally more expensive than cheap, high-fat, high-calorie items bought to stretch the dollar and fend off hunger; and 3) low-income families typically have fewer safe and well-maintained options for physical activity.

However, we know from personal observation and experience that being overweight and obese isn’t limited to low-income people. It’s a uniquely American issue that crops up in other countries when American fast-food purveyors set up shop there.

That makes me wonder if becoming overweight or obese might be more correctly credited — or discredited — to the ingredients in our food. American processed foods contain many harmful chemicals banned in most other Western countries. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wants to cut by $4 billon per year over 10 years what this rich nation spends on its hungriest citizens — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — despite billions still granted to huge agricultural enterprises. The vote was set for this week. There is disagreement, columnist Tucker writes, in whether the cuts should be "merely harsh or extremely severe." Basically, he would reduce the deficit on the backs and stomachs of this country’s most vulnerable.

A New York Times Opinion Page piece Sept. 8 was entitled "Mindlessly Gutting Food Stamps."

"The Cantor plan would force an estimated 4–6 million people to lose the food stamps that now sustain them." Some 14.5 percent of U.S households, the article states, suffer hunger and food insecurity.

Cantor calls it "reform," the piece continues, "while blaming the victims of hunger simply because the food stamp rolls had to double to nearly 48 million in the crunch of the recession."

Former Senate Majority leaders Tom Daschle, Democrat, and Bob Dole, Republican, aired their opinion in the LA Times Tuesday.

"In 2011, SNAP lifted 47 million people out of poverty, and 72 percent of its participants were families with children. The error rate — the combined rate for underpayments and overpayments — has been on a steady decline since the 1990s. And a 2008 Moody’s Analytic study shows that every $1 spent to help reduce hunger has resulted in $1.70 in economic activity: "In a country struggling to emerge from the worst economic recession since the Depression, this is no time to play politics with hunger."

It should be of no consequence in this heartless debate that the cost of the SNAP program has doubled, as has the number of beneficiaries, since 2005.

That’s when it’s been needed most, and the need is unabated. I’d like to see Eric Cantor walk a mile in the shoes of someone who’s hungry day in and day out.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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