January 5, 2009

Letter to the Editor: Hunger and Obesity

To the editors,

In the article “Targeting Obesity Alongside Hunger,” (December 24, 2008), Jane Black reported on a disturbing paradox: the direct link between hunger and obesity. As the Executive Director of Bread for the City, a private non-profit that both provides primary medical care and distributes groceries (among many other services) to over one hundred thousand DC residents, I can speak to the truth of the supposed contradiction. Every day, I see overweight people who have empty cupboards at home. It’s not hard to explain: the poor must eat whatever food they can access and afford; cheap, easily available food often makes for a very unhealthy diet high in carbohydrates and trans-fats. As a result, diabetes and hypertension are common illnesses that we treat in our medical clinic.

This reaffirms our belief that it’s not enough to merely help people eat; we must help them eat well. This past March, Bread for the City hired a nutritionist who now offers one-on-one nutrition counseling and healthy cooking classes free to the community. With consultation from our medical clinic, we’ve eliminated foods with high sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and trans-fats from our food pantry, replacing them with fruits canned in their own juices, whole grains, and fresh produce.

Such change is necessary, but not easy. We are committed to staying on this new healthy path, but as economic turmoil pushes millions more into poverty, we’ll need help. We call upon President-Elect Barack Obama to fulfill his promise to expand access to food assistance programs, and to do so in a way that prioritizes nutrition for the sake of the health of our whole community.

Yours in service,

George A. Jones
Executive Director, Bread for the City

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