The Relationship Between Poverty and Obesity
While obesity is a problem for society, the poor are disproportionally affected (Tanumihardio et al, 2007). This is due to many factors including the finding that high calorie, processed foods are cheaper and more readily available to low-income consumers. A study of the New Haven area has shown that supermarkets located in less affluent areas stock fewer healthier varieties of foods and have fresh produce of lower quality than supermarkets located in higher-income areas (Andreyeva, et al, 2008). In addition, a 2004 study demonstrated that the energy density of food products (usually due to higher fat and sugar content) is inversely proportional to energy cost (Drewnoskia, 2004). In other words, limited income coupled with easier access to relatively cheap, higher calorie food, results in a higher propensity for obesity among low-income individuals and their families.
Recent results from the United Way needs assessment completed by The Center for Research and Public Policy , show that, of the 18 behavioral questions related to health which were included in the survey, that ¼ of the respondents indicated that they had been advised to lose weight. That sample is congruent with the results of the Backus survey.
Based on the data collected from different neighborhoods in New Heaven, a research Team from the Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, found that the availability of healthful food items and produce quality are worse in lower-income areas, but food prices are not higher. Disproportionate supply “may reflect demand of the clientele for less healthful alternatives, dominance of those options may limit choices for people who would be willing to try healthier products.”(Andreyeva, et al, 2008). High quality nutrition will have to be supported by policy and community efforts which will improve the availability of healthful and fresh food choices and can remove barriers such as transportation need and the lack of stores which both carry nutritious food and are accessible. (Andreyeva, et al, 2008)
Food policy work is a “connector” in which the entire continuum of “seed to table” efforts and organizations that make up the food system can be a stimulant to systems thinking and analysis. Independent councils can address the impact of poverty, both rural and urban, on nutrition and on the availability of nutritious food.
The Vision Committee for the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center has been discussing the ability of recipients of food to store and cook fresh produce when made available. Interested in reducing food waste at any point in the food system, from the field itself to the retailer or food pantry, the committee is interested in determining the ability of vulnerable populations to introduce nutritious foods into the lives of children and families and to stimulate an interest in gardening, good nutrition and in healthy cooking and food handling.
The Food Center continues to have a strong interest in securing funding for a food preservation kitchen which will allow fresh food to be preserved and cooking classes to be developed for both providers of and recipients of food services.
From Health and Needs Assessment to Action
Backus Hospital’s 2010 community health assessment (released on September 23, 2010) determined that obesity was the top health risk facing the region. In this region, 80% of African-Americans, 68.7% White, and 75.2% Hispanic/Latino residents are overweight or obese. Obesity increases the incidence and potential of diabetes in the region and increases the costs of healthcare. The results are disproportionately higher than those of other regions in the United States and are considered by hospital officials as serious indicators of a need for action in the region. (“Health Assessment”)
At the same time, Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London has been a key sponsor of a regional needs assessment by the United Way with emphasis on the underlying conditions which impact on health and well-being in the area. New London County and the southeastern region of Connecticut has both rural and urban issues of access to healthy foods for many of its community members. The preliminary results of the United Way Community Needs Assessment will be available in early 2011 and are expected to be in support of and aligned with the Backus health assessment of the region. Under the direction of the United Way Board of Directors, the needs assessment was facilitated by the Center for Research and Public Policy in Vermont. The needs assessment also received support by Dominion Nuclear, and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.
Both assessments included examination of public data and records, the data collected by partner and allied organizations, telephone and email surveys, and focus groups. The results and findings most certainly support the vision of forming a Food Policy Council.
The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University is a non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to improving the world’s diet and preventing obesity. The Rudd Center serves as a leader in building broad-based consensus to change diet and activity patterns, while holding industry and government agencies responsible for safeguarding public health. The Center serves as a leading research institution and clearinghouse for resources that enhance understanding of the complex forces affecting how people eat. It is anticipated that the Rudd Center will be a significant advisor to the work of a new FPC. The Rudd Center considers its work to “stand at the intersection of science and public policy to develop innovative and effective measures to combat obesity and improve global health.” (Rudd, 2008)