How Can Christians Better Address the Obesity Crisis in America?

The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety.  

I think one of the first things to give up is the idea that if people are obese it is just their own fault. That they must be undisciplined or failing in some way—that it is a failure of personal discipline. There are a variety of factors that make it so that some of the cheapest calories in a supermarket are actually some of the most unhealthy, fattening, and sugary foods. If you think about how much it would cost to buy 2,000 calories of soda (about a daily supply of calories for a woman in soda) it would cost maybe a few bucks. But if you think about what it would cost to buy 2,000 calories of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, bread, whole-grain bread, it probably cost 10x that if not more. So, there is that problem.

In addition, in America, the working poor are often caught in situations that make it really hard to eat healthfully. For one, they may live in what people are calling food desserts. These are urban neighborhoods where people who do not have cars only have the option to shop at corner stores. And corner stores do not usually stock fresh fruits and vegetables because those are things that go bad. Cans, bottles, boxes these things stay “fresh”. That makes it difficult to choose a healthy diet when you cannot get to a store easily. When I lived in Chicago as a graduate student it was only because I had a car that I could get to a supermarket that sold fresh fruits and vegetables. It was more than a mile walk away. And if you are a working single mom, you can see really quickly how it is hard not just to pay for the vegetables but even to find them in the store.

The other issue is that government subsidies tend to reward and bring down the price of the unhealthiest foods. The corn syrup that goes into our soda, that is so cheap, is subsidized by tax dollars. The soybean oil that fries our fast food is subsidized by tax dollars as well. And there are very few subsidies that help drive down the cost of fresh produce.

So, when we think of a Christian response in terms of what people can do, ordinary people who aren’t policy makers who want to do something practical in their every day, I would say first if you are involved in a food pantry try to emphasize the importance of including fresh/cold food as part of your offerings in the food pantry. When I was working in a food pantry in my hometown in New York there was a woman who had previously been in a precarious housing situation, in between houses and reliant upon food banks, she pointed out wisely that what we needed weren’t more boxes of mac and cheese, more cans of spaghetti-o’s, or boxes of hamburger helper, but to find a way to get milk, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables into the boxes in the food bags of the people we were trying to serve. It can be a bit trickier but it is worth making the effort. 

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Ursula Spaulding 

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