Juggling poverty and health: Food Corps, Let’s Move and food deserts

This is an opinion column written by a Sustain Mizzou member.

If you page through American history, our country has a tendency to take notice of pressing issues too little and too late. Humanitarian problems are pushed by the wayside as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. The correlation between poverty and poor health in the United States is an ongoing battle that is neglected by both the state and federal government.

The government needs to seek great improvements in the welfare system, in terms of matching problems with solutions. During the Great Depression, FDR’s Great Deal initiated a number of programs to alleviate the country’s shortcomings with federal aid. A lot of these policies have functioned throughout the years to keep Americans’ heads above water, yet still below the poverty line.

To qualify the USDA’s food stamps program, now referred to as “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” a family must make less than $28,668 a year. The number of Americans on food stamps is rising dramatically – almost double from what it was last year. In addition, Medicaid costs four times more than food stamps. Over 50 million low-income children, pregnant women, elderly persons and disabled individuals receive over $250 billion annually in assistance. Couple these statistics with the fact that 65% of American adults are overweight or obese and nearly 40% of children in African American and Hispanic communities are overweight or obese, and the result is counter-productivity. It doesn’t help that the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine predicts half of our children will live in households receiving food supplements before the age of 20. This is the environment in which our country’s children are growing up.

There are, however, initiatives that have seemingly promising goals, fitted to today’s multi-faceted issues – we hope. Food Corps, founded in 2010, plans to recruit young adults for a yearlong term of public service in school food systems. Participants will build Farm to School supply chains, expand nutrition education programs and tend to school gardens. Programs like this recognize the importance of educating youth about nutrition and physically implement environmental solutions. In addition, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign in 2010, which aims to reduce childhood obesity. Its mission focuses on the significance of exercise and eating healthy. Organizations like the USDA and WalMart are involved, which is hopefully a good sign. If continued, programs like these could impact the plagued future of American health.

The USDA is a key player in the relationship between the food system and low-income Americans; it is both the problem and the solution. It has a mixed reputation because of its decisions addressing problems like food deserts – places void of healthy food options. On one hand, the USDA recognizes that food deserts exist and has created grants to combat them; however, it has sly ways of escaping or narrowing funding that prevent solutions. It is selective when it comes to the definition of a food desert, sometimes declaring convenient and dollar stores as legitimate supermarkets. Thus, food deserts remain an unsolved problem that lacks proper attention.

America’s answer is prioritizing preventative measures. It will take an honest reflection about what works and what hasn’t worked. Although poverty and malnutrition are two separate issues, they are interrelated. It takes both foresight and hindsight to effectively cure America.

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2 thoughts on “Juggling poverty and health: Food Corps, Let’s Move and food deserts”

  1. Let me first say that I believe that the programs that are in place to help people at or below the poverty line are essential, much more essential than billions of dollars for bombing the Middle East.

    That being said, the system is not working all that well. I have observed the WIC program in action, which is one that provides food assistance for at-risk mothers, infants and children. That program is buying specific items for consumption, such as milk, formula, and other essentials.

    Food stamps, by however name you call them, are a completely different story. I have NO PROBLEM assisting people in need to get the things they need. But, when I stand in line at the grocery store behind someone who is using food stamps, and what they use them to pay for are things like soda pop, potato chips, and Little Debbie snack cakes, then I have a big problem. It would not be that hard to initiate a program that mandated that food stamps can be used ONLY for staples like potatoes, pasta, meat, eggs, flour, sugar, oil. In fact, in my perfect world, nothing that had “value added” to it would be allowed to be purchased with food stamps. No Hamburger Helper, no frozen microwave entrees, no cake mix, cookie mix, muffin mix, no Ore-Ida frozen potatoes.

    This would also help in the prevention of obesity and the related health problems it carries with it.

    Thank you for your thought provoking and reasonable post.

  2. The comment above about food stamps is amazingly ignorant. Let’s not be coy about what kind of people you’re describing. You’ve literally laid out the classic myth of the “welfare queen,” getting junk food at the expense of the hardworking American taxpayer. I grew up without an empty stomach because of food stamps (which were actually stamps back then and not EBT debit-style cards today), WIC, and subsidized free lunches at school. The idea that poor people should be restricted on what they buy with their welfare benefits smacks of elitism and from someone who has never had to struggle to feed their family. They are still people and still deserve dignity and agency to choose food for themselves. You can buy tofu with EBT. Should that be barred because it might offend your middle class, white attitude towards what the poor should be forced to eat?

    For every person that might “abuse” food stamps in your opinion, there are scores of hardworking and needy families that rely on it so their kids can go to bed tonight without being hungry. Research conducted by the USDA has shown that food stamps are one of the least abused and most effective means-tested welfare programs. It would do you well to educate yourself on federal and state welfare policy before you show up with ignorant, half-assed assertions about food stamps.

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