Friday, September 29, 2006

The Skinny on Fat in Rhode Island

Here's something interesting. Today, in the state of Rhode Island, 4.2% of all households do not have enough food to meet their basic needs. One out of every three people served by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank or a partner agency is a child younger than 18 years old. Seemingly in contrast, adult obesity rates in Rhode Island are at 19.5% and close to 10% of our high school students are overweight.

So, which is it? Is there too much food or not enough? Is there too much access to and emphasis on fast food, junk food and sedentary behaviors? How can the same community have people at both ends of the spectrum?

Obesity is not merely about an overabundance of food. It is not simply cured by removing or limiting access to food. To improve one's quality of health and increase the chances of sustained success, there is no simple fix - not abstaining from eating, fad dieting or launching an exercise regimen. It is a lifestyle choice to be healthy and it is a lifestyle change to make it happen. The changes should be subtle, gradual and so thoroughly repetitive in nature that they create reflex behaviors - as normal as brushing one's teeth or taking a daily prescription. Eventually, the best case scenario is one in which the person does not feel as though they are dieting or punishing themselves, but automatically exercising and modeling good behaviors and choices.

But, what if you can't afford to make those choices? What if you have to decide whether to pay rent or buy food? Pay utilities or buy food? There are currently 50,000 people in Rhode Island that qualify for but are not receiving assistance in the form of food stamps. Lack of access, understanding and education limits the number of people applying. If Rhode Island's food stamp participation were to grow at the rate of the national average it would amount to more than $30 million dollars for the local economy.

Rhode Island's hunger rate has grown in the past decade - so has the obesity rate. Both problems will require education, funding and community support to solve. Is one more important than the other? Are they mutually exclusive problems?

In a year of important elections, these two issues are non-partisan. The crises of hunger and obesity are indiscriminate. Very rarely will a politician be asked about topics other than economic development, the war in Iraq, gasoline prices, casinos, universal health care and education. But, maybe, this is the time to ask what our leaders see as the solutions to the problems that effect us all, directly and indirectly. Maybe, we should ask ourselves the same question - we are all pieces of the puzzle...the problems of the human condition in the state of Rhode Island.


Post a Comment

<< Home