Hungry (and Obese) in America…Then & Now

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Last week marked the 42nd anniversary of a landmark meeting: The White House Conference on Food, Health, and Nutrition, convened by President Richard Nixon.

In 1968, the year prior to the Conference, CBS News had aired a documentary titled, “Hunger in America.”  The shocking pictures of hungry, malnourished children served as a powerful catalyst that prompted the President to take measures to address hunger and poverty in the US.

Several initiatives were implemented after the Conference, including reforms to the Food Stamp Program, WIC, and Social Security.  These changes were intended to reduce financial burdens on vulnerable populations within our society—in particular, the poor, the young, and the elderly.

Today, more than 17 million households regularly experience food insecurity, according to the USDA. Food insecurity means limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.

In a strange paradox, many who experience food insecurity today are also obese.  This may be due to the fact that more convenient and accessible food choices are often high in added sugars and fats.  When people face food insecurity, their nutritional needs are often exceeded by these perceived low-cost substitutions, leading to obesity.  Food insecurity also affects diet quality. A study published last year in Journal of Nutrition found that among 5,000 low income individuals, food insecurity was associated with an increased risk of chronic disease.

You can read more about the study here.

Poor diet and obesity increases the risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer.  AICR’s expert report and its updates concluded that excess body fat increases the risk of seven cancers.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan bill was introduced that would require the current administration to call a new Conference.  You can read the legislators’ letter to the President here.  The measure calls on leadership to eradicate hunger in the context of a nutritionally sound plan.

Eliminating hunger and ensuring food security for all Americans is one step toward a healthier nation.  And healthier Americans would mean fewer cancer cases and less of the cost, loss, and suffering of the disease.




    Author: Teresa

    Teresa L. Johnson, MSPH, RDN, is a nutrition and health communications consultant with a long-time interest in the role of plant-based diets and cancer prevention. Her work draws on elements of nutritional biochemistry, phytochemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology.

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