By Alana Magro
Obesity means much more than simply being overweight. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirms that more than two in three adults are considered overweight or obese. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 12.7 million children between two and nineteen years old are obese. The NIH states that obesity in children has tripled over the past thirty years. The national average for childhood obesity (between the ages of two and five) is 21 percent. The average of childhood obesity in Trenton is 49 percent. The gravity of the issue is growing, as food deserts in communities like Trenton work to exacerbate the issue. And while food deserts put all residents at risk, they can be extremely harmful for children in particular. They play a large role in the rising rates of obesity in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that when compared to Camden, New Brunswick, Newark, and Vineland, Trenton consistently showed the highest obesity rates. Researchers discovered that the majority of children in this city do not comply with daily recommended serving sizes (for fruits and vegetables); instead they resort to fast food. The issue is aggravated by the limited number of existing grocery stores (in comparison to small convenience stores); this leaves very few options for healthy eating. The New Jersey Childhood Obesity Study supports this idea and explains that in areas with limited access to retail grocery stores and supermarket chains, the majority of children’s purchases are unhealthy meals and snacks from smaller stores. At these stores, the few healthy foods that are available are extremely over-priced. According to RWJF, low-income families, which make up 40 percent of Trenton’s population, lack By Alana Magro
transportation to grocery stores. The Trenton Health Team found that the city would have to triple the number of grocery stores in the city in order to properly provide its residents with nutritional food. Not only are these supermarkets out of reach, but the healthy food is simply too expensive for families in the area to purchase. And while we are beginning to understand how widespread the issue is and whom it is affecting, the gravity of the health risks it poses is much more complex. Although there is a long list of risks associated with obesity, the
following are only a few. The NIH warns the public that obesity leads to coronary heart disease (CHD), but that it also leads to heart failure. When someone has a high BMI, their chances of having a stroke increase significantly. Type 2 diabetes is another health risk connected to obesity; according to the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), the disease is three to seven times more likely to appear in those who are obese. Living in a food desert limits accessibility to healthier foods dramatically, which in turn jeopardizes the health and well-being of children and adults.
The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) is one of many organizations working to combat this issue in the Trenton community. Jaime Parker, manager of programs at TASK, commented on the support and services that TASK provides its patrons, “There are folks who come here for Christmas, they come here for Thanksgiving…we try to offer wrap around services that feed the body as well as the mind and the spirit.” The issue of food deserts has only grown over the years. The main obstacle for a lot of families living in these areas is transportation. “A majority of the individuals who come to TASK do not have cars that can easily take them to shop for groceries,” said Parker. “Not having adequate transportation is a big problem.” When talking more specifically about foods that are hard to access, Parker explained: “A lot of time, cheaper food is canned. It’s high in sodium, preservatives, and it’s not as healthy as the fresh food, which usually costs more money. If you go to McDonald’s you can get fries off the dollar menu but what healthy food can you buy for a dollar?” No individual, let alone child, should have to think about where their next meal will come from, or whether it will exist at all. They should not have to spend their lives battling serious illnesses that result from an unbalanced diet. Luckily, TASK is one of the hundreds of organizations working to make sure this isn’t the case.
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen 72 Escher Street, Trenton NJ Phone: (609) 695-5456 www.trentonareasoupkitchen.org