The paradox of hunger and obesity

Hunger isn’t confined to a single zip code. But there are few places where its impact is more evident than within this city’s First Congressional District, rated the second-hungriest in America.

Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano recently detailed how that hunger, rooted in poverty, can paradoxically lead to obesity. Many among the poor are overweight not from eating too much, but because they eat the wrong foods.

Poor inner-city families eating a cheap but unhealthy diet of fattening, processed foods larded with high-fructose corn syrup, fats, and salt are bound to pack on the pounds. These families often live in neighborhoods without a grocery where they can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Lacking viable transportation to get to better stores, the poor are left to frequent corner shops and bodegas stocked with items like Ramen noodles and Little Hugs, a popular sugary drink.

Grocery-deprived neighborhoods are known as “supermarket deserts” because of the dearth of stores with fresh foods.

Fortunately, recent efforts to open supermarkets in impoverished areas are slowly making an impact. But more groceries are needed, as well as community gardens that can offer seasonal fruits and vegetables.

One success story is the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which has combined state funding with private money to develop 68 food markets in underserved communities across Pennsylvania.

By providing loans and grants, the initiative has helped stores such as the Shop Rite in the Eastwick section offer not only good food but also good jobs. The program should be replenished to entice even more grocers to open stores in the inner-city.

That cannot happen too soon. The average Philadelphia student buys more than 350 calories each time he visits one of the corner stores pushing sweet and salty treats that put a child on a path to diabetes and high blood pressure.
Like many cities around the country, Philadelphia has seen an upswing in obesity, especially among the poor.

About 34 percent of poor adults in the city are obese, compared to about 25 percent of nonpoor adults.
The numbers are even more staggering for children. Among poor youngsters, more than half are overweight or obese. For their more affluent peers, that figure is 40 percent — a number that also could use trimming.

Doctors fear the obesity trend will continue until the poor have the means to make more nutritious food choices. School meal programs and food stamps have helped, but good food must be accessible where people live.