Summer food programs can help solve obesity, hunger paradox
Hunger and obesity are often tied together in the United States. Households without money for food often rely on cheaper, high calorie, non-nutrient dense foods to cope with limited money for food and to stave off hunger. High-fat, high-calorie meals are often more affordable than healthful meals based on lean meats, fish, whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit.
The Idaho Food Bank reports that in 2009, there were 142,200 different Idahoans who received emergency food. Last year Idaho had the second fastest food stamp case load increase in the nation. Food insecurity is definitely an issue for many families in our state.
As school winds down, many hungry children will no longer have school nutrition programs to ensure their nutritional needs are met. This is why the Summer Food Program (SFP) was created in 1968. It serves meals to low-income children up to age 18 when school is not in session. No application or proof of income is needed to participate.
Many think that school meals contribute to obesity. However a review of the literature demonstrates no evidence that federal nutrition program participation is linked to obesity. In fact, a study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in 2003 found just the opposite. Participation in school lunch and breakfast programs greatly reduced the risk for overweight among food-insecure girls.
SFP meals must meet strict nutrition standards including a balance of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. These free lunches (and sometimes breakfasts too) are nutrient dense and provide an important resource to many families. Some sites also sell meals to parents, or provide free meals to parent volunteers. Often these sites offer programs such as arts and crafts, music and outdoor recreation. For some low-income children, this is as close as they get to summer camp due to the expense.
Idaho serves more than 1,000,000 meals during the summer. It's comforting to know that Idaho's children, families and communities benefit from these meals and perhaps they are offsetting our obesity rates. Most school districts in North Idaho offer the SFP. To find out when and where SFP sites are located in your neighborhood visit your school district's Web site.