Food assistance programs fight food insecurity and obesity

As a member of the Agriculture Committee, one of my main priorities is to improve and maintain funding for nutrition programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Recent cuts to these programs within the FY2012 agriculture appropriations bill, passed by the House, make a difficult situation all the more complex, especially as we look toward the challenges of writing a new farm bill next year.

Across the country, food insecurity is on the rise. A quarter of the people in my district have difficulty accessing affordable food. In 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 17.2 million children, the highest recorded prevalence rate of food insecurity since 1995. As the rate of people in need goes up, Congress is slashing support for programs that provide food assistance.

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In the recent agriculture appropriations bill, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides food to Americans in need of short-term hunger relief through food banks, was cut by $51 million in addition to $12 million dollars in cuts from TEFAP storage and distribution. These cuts not only affect the amount of food available, but also the type of food. Although some non-perishable foods are healthy, many fresh foods require refrigeration, which may not be an option at some food banks. If we want to reduce obesity and the corresponding increase in chronic diseases, why not help food banks stock more fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods? 

Over the past four decades, obesity rates have soared among all age groups, increasing more than fourfold among children ages 6 to 11. Twenty-three million children and teenagers, 31%, are obese or overweight, a rate that health experts consider an epidemic. This is the first generation in the history of our nation to be so unhealthy that their lifespan will be shorter than that of their parents. By not raising awareness and taking steps to reduce obesity, we are securing this fate for our young people. That's why I recently introduced a resolution designating September as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.   

My hope is that we start investing in healthier diets and, in turn, are able to invest in healthier people.  With so many families facing periods of food insecurity, in addition to significant cuts from the recent agriculture appropriations bill, it is even more important that we support and strengthen nutrition programs in the next farm bill.


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