The Obesity-Hunger Paradox in US Cities.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A recent article in the New York Times examines the seemingly contradictory relationship between obesity and hunger in many poor urban neighborhoods in the U.S.

It seems counterintuitive that communities struggling with obesity could also be suffering from hunger, but this is frequently the case in poor urban neighborhoods. A recent Food Research and Action Center survey found that South Bronx, New York, a county with consistently high obesity rates, also has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country.

Hunger and obesity doesn't only occur in the same neighborhood, but often afflicts the same household, and even the same person. Increasingly, the hungriest people in America today are not skinny, but overweight. This is why hunger and obesity are not parallel issues, but “flipsides of the same malnutrition coin” says Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

One of the primary causes of this obesity-hunger paradox in cities is low-income households' limited access to affordable, fresh nutritious food. Many urban neighborhoods are underserved by supermarkets that stock affordable nutritious food. However, there are usually a multitude of food-vendors that sell cheap, high-calorie foods with low nutritional value.

As a result, this hunger-obesity problem cannot be solved by simply increasing access to food, but by increasing access to the right kinds of food.

The Growing Connection aims to be a part of this solution by giving urban communities the opportunity to grow and consume fresh nutritious food. We work with young people, women’s groups, schools and urban farmers in several large U.S. cities to develop highly efficient and innovative urban vegetable gardens. TGC can have a particularly positive impact for children in urban neighborhoods. We have consistently seen that kids become more enthusiastic about eating healthy vegetables when they are involved in the growing process.