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‘Hunger’ now means obesity

December 3, 2007

by Roz Kohls

Here’s a shocking statistic.

Two weeks ago, the US Department of Agriculture released its report on household food security in the US.

The USDA doesn’t call it hunger anymore, because hunger means “discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain caused by prolonged involuntary lack of food.” Instead, it’s called “household food insecurity.” The phrase sounds, though, as if these people are hungry and underweight.

The government defines “food insecurity” as a recurring and episodic problem. It means the households were forced to reduce variety in their diets at various times of the year.

Roughly 11 percent of all households, the low-income families, experience this insecurity.

Here is the part that is shocking: Of the women in the “food insecure group,” 73 percent are obese, compared to 64 percent of the general population.

“The government’s own data show that, even though they may have brief episodes of reduced food intake, most adults in food-insecure households actually consume too much, not too little food . . . Yet most proposed policy responses to food insecurity call for giving a low-income person more money to purchase food,” according to Robert Rector in the Nov. 21 National Review.

More money for food makes the problem worse, not better.

• Participation in the Food Stamp program does not increase diet quality. Food Stamp recipients do not consume more fruits and vegetables, but more added sugars and fats.

• Food with added sugars and fat (junk food) cost more than healthy foods, such as beans, rice, flour, pasta and milk.

• Over the long-term, more men who receive food stamps become obese than in the population at large. Although there’s no evidence of a direct cause-and-effect relationship yet, the correlation makes you wonder.

• Low-income people become overweight for the same reason that most Americans become overweight. High fat foods and foods with added sugar taste good, and most Americans don’t get enough exercise, Rector said.

Instead of giving money for food to low income people, public policy should be to change food preferences. That’s very difficult to do, however.

Country/pop singer Shania Twain experienced true hunger when she was a little girl in Ontario, Canada. She grew up in a very poor family. Sometimes she went to bed without any supper, got up the next morning, and went without breakfast, too.

When she got to school, and the other students ate lunches they brought from home, Twain pretended she wasn’t hungry. No matter how strong the gnawing feeling was in her stomach, Twain didn’t want her classmates to know her family had no food in the house.

It would be sad if the US invested so many resources into making low-income people obese, that there wasn’t enough left for the truly hungry.