“The USDA study indicated that in 2010, 17.2 million households in America had difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of resources.”
– USDA’s Economic Research Service’s Household Food Security Report, 2010: September 2011
“SNAP national participation in November 2011 increased by 141,067 people over the month to 47,692,896 people, and was more than 1.4 million persons higher than in November 2010…More than one in seven Americans receives SNAP.”
–SNAP Participation Increases in November 2012, Food Research and Action Center
The hunger crisis that our nation is facing exists in New Jersey as well. Over 12% of all New Jersey residents suffer from hunger, and currently 1 in 5 New Jersey children is food insecure. According to the 2011 Kids Count report issued by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the number of children in New Jersey depending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose from 208,790 in 2007 to 368,173 in 2011. This is an increase of 76%.
The Healthy Food Crisis
Along with a rise in the number of food insecure households in New Jersey is a rise in the number of “food deserts,” or areas that lack access to fresh, affordable food. These areas typically have a shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables and are populated by low-income residents without vehicles. Many grocery stores will not set up business in low-income urban areas because they do not expect large profits from these communities. A report issued in 2010 by the Reinvestment Fund concluded that more than 924,000 Garden State residents, or more than 10% of the population, lack adequate access to supermarkets offering fresh fruits and vegetables. These same areas are also known as “food swamps” because of their easy and plentiful access to foods lacking nutritional benefits, such as foods available at fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
If family budgets are tight, food is often the first thing to be sacrificed. When there is money to buy food, it can be stretched further by buying highly processed, calorie-dense food with little nutritional value. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contain essential vitamins and minerals that help protect people from chronic diseases, cardiovascular risks, and even certain cancers according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, for many low-income people, this fresh, healthy food is simply out of reach. For this reason America’s Grow-a-Row has made it our mission to help relieve the stress and anxiety of constant food insecurity by providing free fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables to those in need.
The Hunger and Obesity Paradox
The regular consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is a key factor in the prevention of obesity and its attendant risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The consumption of cheaper, less nutritious choices by people in food insecure households has led to growing obesity and diabetes rates across the country. The consequences of these health problems can dramatically affect children because their bodies are still developing. Energy spikes and lulls from sugar and fat or, on the contrary, limited amounts of food affect concentration, behavior, and learning abilities in the classroom. Among low-income children 2 to 5 years old, New Jersey has one of the highest rates of obesity in the country at more than 18 percent (Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, 2009). Numerous studies have confirmed the link between childhood obesity and the greatly increased risk for adult obesity, and in New Jersey, as elsewhere, the incidence of obesity is more prevalent among low-income populations (Truong & Sturm, 2005).
The issue of food insecurity nationally and in New Jersey is shifting to encompass not just hunger but also increased obesity rates. With your help, America’s Grow-a-Row continues to tackle issues of both hunger and obesity by providing fresh, healthy, nutrient-packed produce and education programs about the benefits of proper nutrition. We recognize the necessity of adding healthy food to a low-budget diet, and we work hard to donate as much nutrient-rich food as possible to people who desperately need it. For more information about the hunger and obesity epidemics facing our country and our state, book a presentation with Julie Rusin so your community can learn more about these issues through an interactive lesson. Knowledge leads to change!
“Every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82% globally in the past two decades. Middle Eastern countries are more obese than ever, seeing a 100% increase since 1990.”
– Global Report: Obesity Bigger Health Crisis Than Hunger, CNN: December 14, 2012