Have you ever stood in line at a grocery store and saw someone buying food with their EBT (food stamps) card who was either overweight or with kids in tow who were overweight? What was your kneejerk reaction? Maybe you thought, “There’s no way they should be on food stamps! They clearly have enough to eat.”
As a nation, we struggle with the idea that a child can be both overweight and not have enough to eat. But these are two sides of the same coin.
The San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative recently released their 2019 State of Childhood Obesity Report. Their findings show that, in San Diego County, 1 in 3 children (34.1%) is overweight/obese. Children from low-income families are twice as likely to be overweight or obese when compared to their higher-income peers. These findings are important when you consider that, in San Diego County, 1 in 3 households is struggling to make ends meet.
A study by the University of California, Berkeley revealed that 32% of employed San Diegans are considered low-wage earners with an income of less than $14.35/hour. This means that they earn well below the California Family Needs Calculator’s estimated income needed to meet a person’s basic needs. When people have trouble paying their rent and utilities, the food budget is often the first place cuts are made.
According to San Diego Hunger Coalition research, 1 in 5 children in San Diego County don’t always have enough to eat. Facing hunger during a child’s formative years can lead to a lifetime of weight and health problems. Many of these problems result from not getting enough healthy food as they grow and learning the wrong eating habits.
Before you lay the blame at the parents’ feet, there is more to understand about overweight and obesity linked to food insecurity. In many cases, the food assistance that is available to low-income families isn’t enough to see them safely through the month. These families, many employed full-time and hardworking, must sacrifice healthy food in favor of cheaper, highly processed options that will fill bellies and keep their kids fed. High fat, high calorie, and high sugar foods become a staple in many low-income households not by choice, but out of necessity.
For the families buying unhealthy food so that their kids don’t go hungry, food assistance programs are a lifeline. But, the only way to break the cycle of food insecurity and obesity is to make sure they know about and have access to programs like WIC, Free and Reduced-Price school meals, and CalFresh. We know that ending hunger takes a community, and it will take all of these programs working together to make sure kids have enough healthy food to eat to avoid the pitfalls of poor health, overweight, and obesity.