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Xenna C. Smith

Helen Smith

AP English 4

22 November 2016

Roots and Effects of Food Insecurity in Youth

It would take twelve Rhode Island sized land masses to fit the number of obese

adolescents in the United States as of 2012: 12.7 million. It is no surprise that there is an obesity

epidemic prevalent in the United States with over thirty-five percent of people being obese.

Author of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual Michael Pollan notes that he believes the answer to

the ever-complicated question of how we need to remedy the obesity epidemic is, Eat Food. Not

too much. Mostly Plants. In theory, that simplistic statement seems like an easy fix but in

reality, how can people of all backgrounds, incomes, and ethnicities be expected to just simply

eat less, and healthier? In 2014 alone, forty-seven million Americans lived in food-insecure

households, of them fifteen million are children. Youth are directly disenfranchised when it

comes to food access because of their age--especially if they are because of lower income, a

minority, and live in a negatively-influenced environment. This nutrition inacces causes issues

within brain development, leads to obesity and malnutrition, and creates a cynical outlook for

their future as adults.

To be considered food insecure the subject has to be in the state of being without

reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. The common misconception

people gain envisioning those affected by food inaccess oftentimes brings about visions of

hollow-cheeked, gaunt, malnourished people--which can be the case in many situations--but,


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more often than not, the people lacking proper nutrition from food can be overweight and obese.

Eighty-four percent of families considered food insecure by Feeding America report that they

will choose to buy the cheapest (oftentimes the most unhealthy) foods possible, just so they have

food in their household. Unfortunately, food banks like Manna Food Bank can only house and

transport nonperishable and long lasting to help the malnourished families they support.

Youth are the most susceptible group of people to food insecurity because they are not

the heads of their own household; therefore, do not get to choose how money is spent, what food

is provided for them, and where they live. Because of their age, the adults around them, the

programs they attend, and where they go to school ultimately decides how and what they eat. In

North Carolina alone, 564,240 children are food insecure and nine counties have over 30 percent

of its adolescents under eighteen years of age not know when their next meal will come and

where it will come from. Food insecurity often times results in obesity and according to the

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), fourteen percent of high school students

were obese, and an additional sixteen percent were overweight in 2015. Additionally, Feeding

America reports that malnourished youth can suffer from tooth decay, fatigue, low energy, and

poor immune function that results in hospitalization--adding to the healthcare taxes US citizens

must pay.

Food insecurity is something that deprives youth of more than just physical wellness.

According to The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, several studies have

demonstrated that food insecurity hurts cognitive development in children and can be linked to

poorer school performance. Other data shows increased illness and higher healthcare costs are

associated with food insecure youth. Inadequate nutrition can alter a childs brain and stunt their
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intellectual growth, affecting the youths learning, social interaction, and productivity. This

demonstrates how early childhood food insecurity can cause youth to lose potential for

intellectual growth and eventually be unable to fully contribute to society as an adult. If a student

suffers in school because of hunger it could easily result in them dropping-out or not going into

higher-education. According to Education, Social Status, and Health by Catherine Ross and John

Mirowsky, education determines other factors of livelihood like occupation and income, which

determines health outcomes, Education forms a unique dimension of social status, with qualities

that make it especially important to health. It influences health in ways that are varied, present at

all stages of adult life, cumulative, self-applying, and uniformly positive. (Ross and Mirowsky

1). These underlying health determinants can have societal catalysts oftentimes determined by

outside, unavoidable sources.

Personal choices of health are certainly a determinant of how healthy a person is, but

social determinants of health can have a more detrimental effect. A persons food insecurity a

majority of the time is due to three things: income, social & physical environment, and their race.

These three things are more often than not, something the person in question has no effect over;

thus, putting a flaw into the thinking that unhealthy people are just being lazy. Negative social

determinants of health tend to directly affect food access as well. Since youth that still live with

their families have no control over their income and where they live, a child that is food insecure

does not have the capacity or control to better their situation. A health initiative created by the

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion called Healthy People 2020 considers social

determinants of health to be a serious barrier in access to health issues:


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Health starts in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and

communities. We know that taking care of ourselves by eating well and staying

active, not smoking, getting the recommended immunizations and screening tests,

and seeing a doctor when we are sick all influence our health. Our health is also

determined in part by access to social and economic opportunities; the resources

and supports available in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities; the quality

of our schooling; the safety of our workplaces; the cleanliness of our water, food,

and air; and the nature of our social interactions and relationships. The conditions

in which we live explain in part why some Americans are healthier than others

and why Americans more generally are not as healthy as they could be. ("Social

Determinants of Health.")

Health disparities can happen because of biological differences which may exist between

racial/ethnic groups and also social disparities associated with race. A way of looking at this

problem is that seventy percent of White children are never poor, but only twenty-three percent

of African American children are never poor (Price, McKinney, and Braun 2). This vast number

of African American children facing poverty issues is proximately caused by the systemic racism

that leads them to being stuck within the Cycle of Poverty, balancing the weight of societal

oppression with trying to keep themselves and their families fed. The common association that

occurs through all of the social determinants affecting health disparities is stress. Minorities

experience a higher amount of uncontrollable negative life events and more frequent exposure to

life stressors (i.e. financial, relationships, educational, occupational, etc.) If an adolescent is

stressed due to things determined by their race, they are more likely to have poorer health, The
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lower social status of racial/ethnic minorities creates and maintains an absence of power over and

power to do much about the psychosocial adversities they confront on a daily basis. (Price,

McKinney, and Braun 8). Racial and ethnic discrimination is the foundation for the causes of the

socially determined disparities in health, meaning someones environment and income is

statistically determined by their race:

A further complication to well-being can be caused by how individuals react to

the stressors they face. Because of the neighborhood environments and economic

stares of many young racial/ethnic minorities they may deal with their stresses in

less healthy ways. Health risk behaviors, including smoking, minimal exercise,

poor diet and obesity, early sexual activity and teenage pregnancies have all been

found to have a similar underlying theme, in part, stress inducing environments.

(Price, McKinney, and Braun 7)

According to Garth Graham, MaryLynn Ostrowski, and Alyse Sabina writers of

Defeating The ZIP Code Health Paradigm, one of the clearest determinants of health

disparities is geography: where people live, and the resulting social consequences. The most

prevalent detrimental environments an adolescent can be raised in are urban housing

communities and on a larger scale, food deserts. The United States Department of Agriculture

(USDA) defines food deserts as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other

healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas largely due to a lack of grocery

stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers. According to the U.S. Department of

Agriculture, twenty-five to thirty million Americans live in food deserts, 1.5 million of those

Americans live in North Carolina alone. If someone does not have access to a car, reliable public
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transportation, and/or has physical disabilities and lives in a food desert where healthy foods are

in an unreasonable walking distance, they will often resort to shopping at cheap local corner

stores just to have food. These corner stores typically carry non-perishable junk food, but

unfortunately can become the only accessible food for families in food deserts. Food deserts can

encompass many types of broader environments such as spread out rural places and urban

cityscapes. In a more specific focus, urban residential segregation in housing communities

concentrates poverty: it diminishes social networks, helps to create high unemployment, and

diminishes access to new economic developments (Price, McKinney, and Braun 6). One of the

results of such environmental constraints is the creation of unsafe neighborhoods, increased

crime and poor role models for youth. According to an analysis from the Center on Budget and

Policy Priorities, twenty-six states will spend less per student in 2013 than the year before; these

neighborhoods tend to have poorly funded schools which offer less healthy food for the youth

who may rely on their two meals a day from their cafeteria.

For many people, the most simple way to understand food insecurity is the fact that some

people simply cannot afford healthy foods, relying on the schools to provide meals for their

children. According to James H. Price, Molly A. McKinney, and Robert E. Braun writers of

Social Determinants of Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities in Children and Adolescents, children

in severe poverty are especially vulnerable to poor nutrition that results in inadequate growth and

development, lessened educational success, and undeveloped cognitive skills. The reality of the

situation is that severe poverty affects minority children more than caucasian children, with

forty-five percent of all African Americans in severe poverty being children as is forty-four

percent of all Hispanics (Price, McKinney, and Braun 6). According to the Council on
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Community Pediatrics and Committee on Native American Child Health, if all youth had the

same level of health and wellness as the economically advantaged, it would reduce poor health

outcomes by sixty to seventy percent. Although federal nutrition assistance through

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps many food insecure families, Feeding

America reports that twenty percent of food insecure children live in households that earn too

much to qualify for most federal nutrition assistance--these families often times rely on charities

to make ends meet but still produce overweight children.

According to the Center of Disease Control, adolescents who are obese are likely to be

obese as adults; therefore, more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type two

diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. John Cook, PhD and Karen Jeng, AB, authors of

Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation, note how the the United States has

made legitimate strides economically and socially, but has never completed the infrastructure

investments needed to make sure that all American adolescents consistently have access to

healthy food through government initiatives, urban planning, and improved school cafeterias. As

a result, the US has handicapped the minds and bodies of much of its upcoming workforce and

placed constraints on its available pool of human capital by lacking to provide the solid

foundation on which sharp minds and powerful bodies are built through access to affordable,

healthy food. These social determinants of health marginalize youth to the utmost extent because

of how their age inhibits their freedom. The environments they are raised in, along with the race

they were born as, and how much money their family has can lead to food access issues. These

disparities are the roots of youth food insecurity that lead to lifelong consequences which are
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difficult to rise up from, developing a generation of adults with poor ability to contribute to

society productively.
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Works Cited

"Adult Obesity in the United States." The State of Obesity. Trust for America's Health and the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, n.d, www.stateofobesity.org/adult-obesity. Accessed
08 Nov. 2016.

"Child Hunger in America." Feeding America. Feeding America, 2016,


www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger. Accessed
14 Sept. 2016.

Cook, John, PhD, and Karen Jeng, AB. Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on Our
Nation (2009): 1-36. Childrens HealthWatch, Feeding America, n.d.
www.nokidhungry.org/sites/default/files/child-economy-study.pdf . Accessed 21 Nov.
2016.

"Defeating The ZIP Code Health Paradigm: Data, Technology, And Collaboration Are Key."
Health Affairs. Garth Graham, MaryLynn Ostrowski, and Alyse Sabina, n.d,
www.healthaffairs.org/defeating-the-zip-code-health-paradigm. Accessed 08 Nov. 2016.

"Definitions of Food Security." USDA ERS -. USDA, n.d,


www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us. Accessed 08
Nov. 2016.

Mirowsky, John, and Catherine E. Ross. Education, Social Status, and Health. New York: A. De
Gruyter, 2003. Print.

"Nutrition and the Health of Young People." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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"Overweight and Obesity Statistics." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of
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Pollan, Michael. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print.
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Price, James H., Molly A. McKinney, and Robert E. Braun. "Social Determinants of
Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities in Children and Adolescents." J. Racial and Ethnic
Health Disparities Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2010): 1-11. Society
for Public Health Education, 15 Oct. 2010,
www.sophe.org/Sophe/PDF/Webinars/20120416151902. Accessed 8 Nov. 2016.

"Social Determinants of Health." Healthy People 2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health
Promotion, n.d,
www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health.
Accessed 08 Nov. 2016.