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A Dash of Pepper

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Shedding light on conflicting campaigns
The Gazette Staff
If you follow the media at all, you've probably noticed some messages that seem to be contradictory. I'm referring to the campaign, on one hand, to make us aware of an epidemic of childhood obesity, and on the other hand, the campaign to feed our hungry children.
I turn on the Food Network occasionally as a sort of visual background music. I glean the occasional recipe and enjoy some of their celebrity chefs. I also noticed that they have climbed on the fight-hunger-in-America bandwagon.
Chief among the persons promoting the fight hunger campaign is celebrity chef and Food Network personality Sandra Lee, who is also the girlfriend of newly-elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. She can be seen often in anti-hunger commercials repeating grim statistics that 17.4 million American households are "food insecure," and 4.2 million of those families include children. The images of children used in the commercial are, of course, heart-rending. Actor Jeff Bridges also promotes the campaign, stating that one in four children live in households that are "food insecure." One of the efforts being promoted is a neighborhood bake sale featuring various goodies for sale with the proceeds going to the hunger campaign people.
Writer Julie Gunlock published a column recently in which she took a closer look at the term "food insecure."
It comes to us courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the average person might associate it with real hunger and/or starvation, that is not quite the case. The USDA defines it this way: "Food insecurity" is one of two circumstances. Low food security is "reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet with little for no indication of reduced food intake." The second category is "very low food security." This defined as "multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake."
Gunlock unearthed that the most recent USDA report for 2009 states that 17.4 million households fit into one of these two categories. Of these, 10.6 million households experienced "low" food security at some point during that year.
This means that these families were still able to "obtain enough food to avoid substantially disrupting their eating patterns or reducing food intake." However, they had less variety in their diets, used federal food assistance and at times, got food from a local food pantry.
The remaining 6.8 million households (which includes 5.4 million children) experienced "very low" food security, meaning that normal eating patterns were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times.
Gunlock concludes, "In other words, one in four American families isn't really suffering from hunger, as the public understands the term. Rather, the problem of hunger actually persists among a relatively small portion of the population."
"Food insecurity" is more common among minority, poor, urban and single-parent households. But even in these households, the USDA states, parents try to shield their children from the effects of food insecurity, even if it means they must reduce their own food intake. They rely on a variety of safety nets such a food stamp, school lunch programs and food banks. So, despite the alarmist commercials, the problem is not a crisis, in fact, rather far from it.
A crisis does exist, though, in terms of both adult and childhood obesity. I believe part of this problem is genetic. We have all seen two or three generations at the grocery store, all with weight problems. I also suspect some of this started when schools initiated lunch programs and installed vending machines. But the contents of the grocery basket also contribute greatly.
Perhaps all the money being spent to advertise hunger might be better used to promote healthy eating and education about the importance of early nutrition plus exercise.