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What is Food Insecurity and Why is It Making Us Obese?
By: Omar I. Rodriguez, Mgr. of Communications & Advocacy
published August 2015

A common remark made about people living in poverty is, "If they are so poor, why are they so obese?" Seems like a contradiction doesn't it? The assumption is that if you are poor and hungry then why would you be overweight or obese?

The answer is "Food Insecurity". Food Insecurity is a term created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that means "consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year." Hundreds of families are surveyed each year by the USDA and are asked if they have food in the home or if they are having trouble buying food. There are varying degrees of Food Insecurity where sometimes a family skips a meal every now and then while some simply do not eat for a period of days. It happens. But don't poor people have access to food? True, with programs like food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), some people living slightly above federal poverty rate and below can have access to food depending on their family size. This is a great program because about 95 cents out of every program dollar actually goes to food purchases; with incidents of fraud hovering at 2-3% annually. But what happens when a family receives a supplement that was never intended to cover an entire month's of food? What anyone would do, you get the most bang out of your dollar and resort to 20 cent noodles, processed foods and foods that will last for a month, generally frozen and instant foods packed with salt. When you stock up for the month, you aren't thinking of going to the grocery store every day to buy fresh ingredients for that day's meals; you are stocking up to make it to the end of the month. Not to mention the gas used for daily trips to the local store (if you have a working car).

Poverty isn't a happy situation. Often chased by creditors, anxiety over bills, not to mention medical emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, poverty is very stressful. Who isn't familiar with binge eating and comfort food to cope with stress? Skipping meals so other family members get to eat also tends to encourage binge eating as well. It soon becomes apparent how easy it is to fall into a spiral of a high calorie, high salt, processed food diet for the very sake of survival. It's even creeping into middle class families that are too busy to prepare traditional lunches and dinners; many resorting to instant and microwaveable foods. No wonder people in poverty can be obese. It leads to other assumptions like: poor people must be lazy, they must not care about their health, which is hardly the case. But habits are changing and opportunities are slowly emerging. More and more farmers markets across the country are accepting SNAP and more SNAP beneficiaries are shopping for fresher, healthier produce (totaling $18.8 m FY2014). Retailers are beginning to offer whole wheat and healthier options at a similar price point of other processed foods.

The Food Bank RGV is teaching hundreds of local families how to cook healthier and make better choices on a budget. We even have recipes any family can use to eat healthier without breaking the bank.

Just remember, Food Insecurity limits people on what they have access to but it should never limit our understanding of hungry people. If you'd like to learn more, visit the
Food Bank RGV
at 724 N. Cage Blvd.
Pharr, Texas