The reality is that hunger and being overweight are linked and it affects millions of children and adults, and this paradox of food insecurity threatens the health of our nation's children.
"We believe all children have the right to flourish, to have consistent access to food and to live healthy, active lives. We must help increase awareness of food insecurity while also providing evidence-based solutions to reducing obesity," says Diane Heller, MMSc, RDN, LD, FAND, past chair of the Academy's Foundation.
Poverty and unemployment are key drivers that have led to food insecurity in America. "Food insecurity essentially means that, because of insufficient money or other resources within a household, there is uncertainty of having enough food to meet the needs of all its members," Heller says. African Americans, Latinos, children, older adults and people residing in rural areas are at increased risk for food insecurity.
More than 48 million Americans are food insecure, including more than 15 million children. As a result of these driving forces, individuals often choose less expensive, calorie-dense food. This can lead to overweight children who lack the healthy, nutrient-rich food their bodies need.
"There is confusion and conflicting information when it comes to obesity and food insecurity," Heller says. "Hunger and obesity often occur within the same neighborhoods — even the same families. More than one in five kids lives in a food-insecure household, meaning their family's income doesn't allow for consistent access to food. Meanwhile, a child can look overweight while still being hungry for nutrients because limited income leads to a trade-off between food quantity and quality."
The Academy and its members are strong advocates for programs that are effective in reducing food insecurity and nourishing children, including school meal programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. "When it comes to the hunger-obesity paradox, we will be part of the solution," Heller says. "One-third of our country's population is children, but children are 100 percent of our future. Their health today is our country's wealth tomorrow."