Food Insecurity In The Region Causes Obesity

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One-third of U.S. adults are too heavy. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with that number the U.S. ranks No. 2 in the world. Only Mexico has a higher rate of obesity.

Obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the medical cost of obesity in 2008 in the U.S. was $147 billion dollars.

But obesity prevalence in the U.S. varies across states and regions. Looking at the CDC data Ohio has one of the highest obesity rates in the country.

Mary Nally from Community Food Initiatives in Athens said that the situation in Athens County would be even worse compared to the state average. She explained that this would be due to the high poverty rate in the region and that poverty correlates with being food insecure and obese.

"Twenty percent of our population here in Athens County are food insecure. And there's a very high correlation in the research that shows there's a strong relationship between being food insecure and being obese," she said.

Unhealthy food often cheaper than healthy food

According to the Ohio Association of Community Action Agency Athens County shows a poverty rate of more than 30 percent. That is more than twice as high as the state average. People who depend on food stamps and food pantries would often only have access to processed food which is usually calorie-dense with a high salt, sugar and fat content, Nally explained.

Another problem in this area would be the so called food desert. "In the rural parts of our communities are no grocery stores. At the best there might be a gas station or corner store market," she explained. And these stores would tend to sell processed foods and not fresh foods like fruits and vegetables.

But even if people have access to fresh food in grocery stores it often turns out to be more expensive than processed food like fast food. "It's hard to argue the case that you should be eating fruits and vegetables if that is going to cost you $25 dollars whereas you can go and get Little Debby for $0.50 cents," said Deb Murray, Assistant Professor at the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness at Ohio University

Still, Murray and Nally argued that having little income doesn't have to lead to obesity. With the knowledge on how to get access to fresh and local food and how to cook it a good diet wouldn't be expensive.

That is what Community Food Initiative has tried to achieve since 20 years by educating the local population with events like cooking workshops.