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Two Sides of the Same Coin

Two Sides of the Same Coin

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Ensuring children and their parents have the nutritional and health support they need is an investment in a more prosperous future, writes Alexandra Cawthorne.
Ensuring children and their parents have the nutritional and health support they need is an investment in a more prosperous future, writes Alexandra Cawthorne.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Dec 06, 2010
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1Center for American Progress |  Two sides of the same coin
 Two sides of the same coin
Hunger and obesity in early childhood
Alexandra CawthorneDecember 2010
Congress ook acion las week o do wha’s righ by increasing low-incomechildrens access o healhy meals. Landmark legislaion passed he House o Represenaives on Tursday o renew child nuriion programs. Te Healhy,Hunger-Free Kids Ac will spend abou $4.5 billion over 10 years o providehealhier meals o children a home, in school, and in child care setings. Bu somuch more remains o be done.Tis legislaion passed jus aer newly released ood securiy daa rom he UniedSaes Deparmen o Agriculure conrms ha millions o low-income parenslack he money and resources o keep heir panries and rerigeraors lled wihenough ood o provide heir amilies wih adequae and nuriious meals every day.More han 17 million children lived in households ha were ood insecure in 2009.Tis naional ravesy  was on he rise well beore amilies were eeling squeezed by he Grea Recession. Child hunger increased by nearly 50 percen in 2007 rom he year beore, marking he highes poin in nearly a decade.Record levels o paricipaion in ood assisance programs and increased demand a emergency kichens and ood panries make clear ha more amilies han ever beore aresruggling o ge enough o ea in he aermah o he recession.Tis is especially rue among amilies wih very young children. USDA reporedearlier his year ha during he rs hal o 2009, one in ve homes wih a baby oroddler wasood insecure. Tis alarming saisic illusraes ha amilies wih very  young children are paricularly vulnerable o economic hardship, and oen runshor o nuriious ood.
2Center for American Progress |  Two sides of the same coin
Childrens healh and lie chances are damaged by ood insecuriy and hungeras ood eaen during he earlies years o lie signicanly aecs heir physicaland inellecual capaciies as hey grow. In ac, arecen sudy rom he NaionalCancer Insiue and he Universiy o Calgary ound ha children ha wen hun-gry a leas once in heir lives were more han wice as likely as children rom oodsecure homes o have poor overall healh 10 year o 15 years laer. While ood insecuriy and obesiy are oen viewed separaely as public healhconcerns, hese issues are essenially wo sides o he same malnuriion coin ormany sruggling amilies. Obesiy is he resul o many complex and inerrelaedacors , bu he qualiy o he ood eaen a home grealy inuences is preva-lence. Researchers associae low-income preschool children who are overweighor obese wih heinsucien consumpiono resh ruis and vegeables. Low-income households spend a larger percenage o heir income on ood, bu hey end ospend less on ood overall(see Figure 1) and nd idicul o aord  healhy oods like resh produce.Many poor amilies sruggle o nd wihin heir communiies he nuriious oodsnecessary o mainain a healhy weigh. A recen sory in
eaured a young woman reecing on how living in povery andin aood desersince childhood has conribued o her obesiy.“You can’ nd resh ruis and vegeables in his neighborhood,”she explained. “I ae a lo o insan noodles and drank a lo o Hawaiian Punch rom he corner sores up here.”Raes o childhood obesiy have ripled since he mid-1980s,leaving he curren generaion o children and eenagers on rack o have a lower lie expecancy han heir parens. Te obesiy epidemic even plays ou on he bodies o our younges chil-dren—over 30 percen o kids beween he ages o 2 and 5 areoverweigh or obese. And hough here is no clear deniion o overweigh or obese or young children under age 2, clinicianshave observed anupward rend in weighamong inans and od-dlers over he las wo decades.Tose exra pounds are puting very young kids a a greaer risk o a hos o debiliaing and cosly diseases including diabees,cerain cancers, and hear disease. A recen sudy examining heimpac o childhood obesiy onhealh care cossconcluded ha
Figure 1
Spending on food by income quintiles
Lower income households have less moneyfor food despite spending bigger percentageof income
L   o  w   e  s   t    2   0      p  e  r   c   e  n  t   2   n  d     2   0      p  e  r   c   e  n  t   3   r   d     2   0      p  e  r   c   e  n  t   4   t   h   2   0      p  e  r   c   e  n  t   H    i     g   h  e  s   t    2   0      p  e  r   c   e  n  t   A   l    l     h  o  u   s   e  h  o  l    d    s   
Average annual expenditure on foodPercent of gross income spent on food
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Consumer Expenditure Survey 2009” (2010).
3Center for American Progress |  Two sides of the same coin
he direc coss o hospializaions relaed o childhood obesiy nearly doubled beween 2001 and 2005 o $237.6 million.Tis issue brie will explore he connecion beween hunger and obesiy in pooramilies wih babies and oddlers, and hen examine he policy inervenions hacould improve access o adequae nuriion while supporing low-income parensin raising healhy children. While some o hese policy inervenions are addressedin he Healhy, Hunger-Free Kids Ac, here are a number o oher exising policiesand programs ha we can use o preven hunger and obesiy in early childhood.
Prevalence of obesity and food insecurity among low-incomewomen and their children
Obesiy raes increased dramaically over he pas 20 years or amilies o allincomes and racial or ehnic backgrounds. Bu here is a srong correlaion beween lower incomes and higher obesiy raes, paricularly or women. Onesudy ound ha heprevalence o obesiy or women wih household incomes o less han $15,000 per year a 36 percen was wice ha o women wih incomes o more han $75,000 per year. And obesiy raes are highes or black and Hispanic womenand girls, especially in amilies wih he lowes level o parenal educaion.Families headed by women are disproporionaely represened among he poor,he obese, and he ood insecure. Over 36 percen o amilies headed by unmar-ried women are ood insecure, and children rom hese amilies aremore likely o be obesehan children rom wo-paren amilies. Single parens are oensreched or ime and money, leaving litle ime and resources o devoe o mealplanning and he preparaion o healhy meals.
Pre-pregnancy weight and child obesity
Recen research demonsraes ha he likelihood ha a child will be obese andsuer oher negaive healh oucomes is se beore he or she is even conceived. And he mos eecive inervenions o address he prevalence o obesiy amonglow-income and oen ood-insecure children may acually sar beore hey areeven born. A moher’s weigh beore pregnancy is an imporan acor or childand maernal healh. Obesiy no only is he source o muliple healh problemsamong women o childbearing age, bu also is associaed wih ahigher risk orpregnancy complicaions, cesarean delivery, andneonaal problems.

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