Meadville Tribune

Local News

April 4, 2013

Low-income families face greater risk of obesity

MEADVILLE — Getting her 3-year-old daughter to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and stay physically active hasn’t been a problem for Sue, 30, of Meadville. However, she has found that keeping healthy food on the table can be financially challenging.

“It’s hard when you’re on a budget,” she said.

Since moving here from Warren, Pa., five years ago, Sue has had to learn where and how to best stretch her dollar. She also relies on the Center for Family Services (CFS) Food Pantry, where she receives a food box once a month. Here, she has no options, but rather a pre-made box of items that are organized according to family size.

“I’d rather buy frozen (vegetables) over canned but at the pantry you get what you get,” she said.

Canned tuna, fruit and various vegetables, along with packages of rice, spaghetti, oatmeal and peanut butter are sorted along the storage space in the food pantry. Manager Debbie Vittorio said freezer space is occupied by whatever protein the federal government sends the pantry for that month.

State funding, some federal surplus food and weekly Wal-Mart donations fill the more than 1,000 food boxes that CFS Executive Director Linda Bennett said the pantry served in December 2012 alone.

But like Sue, CFS is challenged by a limited budget.

“A lot of people are needing food that never sought that kind of help before,” Bennett said. “And we got a $32,000 cut in our state food program this year.”

Low socioeconomic status has long been correlated with higher obesity rates. The higher price of healthy food, unemployment, long hours spent between multiple jobs, inadequate cooking knowledge and lack of access to a stove are among the factors that can put those with lower income at a greater risk for obesity.

A December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that childhood obesity disproportionately affects low-income children. The same article shared data from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which reported that 14.94 percent of children ages 2 through 4 years old from lower income families are obese.

There are no statistics for the percentage of the population that falls below the poverty line in Crawford County that is overweight or obese, but in Pennsylvania, 12.6 percent of the population is below the poverty line. That number is higher locally. The 2010 Census reported that 16.2 percent of Crawford County’s population and 27.4 percent of Meadville’s population fell below the poverty line.

As a result, affording and budgeting for food is viewed by many as a significant factor underlying local childhood obesity rates. There are numerous stories and statistics that back up this view.

Laura Parker, supervisor of parenting and education for CFS, said she recently worked with a father who was particularly frustrated in trying to afford healthy snacks for his overweight child.

“There is real frustration at the fact that when they go into a place, and I don’t want to mention a particular place, but let’s say a convenience store, that you can buy a giant candy bar for $1 and fill your kid up,” Parker said. “That’s so your kid won’t be hungry. But if you want to buy a little cup of fruit, it’s three to four times the price.”

That example fits with additional evidence of a local income-childhood obesity link.

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