In a recent article in the New York Times, Sam Dolnick explores the connection between obesity and malnutrition in low income communities in the South Bronx. According to the article, Bronx residents are 85 percent more likely to be obese than those living in Manhattan, an epidemic that stems not from a simple overindulgence in food, but from the Borough’s overabundance of fast food restaurants and lack of healthy alternatives. This is, according to Dolnick, the new face of malnutrition in the United States.
With obesity on a steady rise in the U.S, and concentrated in minority communities – in 2008, when compared with the country’s white population, African-Americans had a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics 21 percent higher – connections are being made between social justice and food security. In New York, organizations like Just Food work to connect CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and urban farms with low income communities, guaranteeing access to affordable and healthy fresh food. Efforts are also being made on the local political front, as Brighter Green and other members of the Foodprint Alliance worked with former City Council Member Bill de Blasio to introduce Foodprint NYC, the fist resolution of its kind to make the connections between climate change and our food choices. The resolution calls for improved access to fresh fruits and vegetables for all new Yorkers, particularly those in low income communities and in city run institutions. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has since introduced FoodNYC, his vision for a sustainable food system for New York, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn is also promoting her plan, Foodworks NYC, to overhaul the city’s current methods of producing, consuming and disposing its food.
While obesity may be a symptom of poverty in this country, this is not the case overseas. In India, a burgeoning economic powerhouse, obesity is still very much a disease of affluence, afflicting those who can afford deep fried goodies and American fast food. At present 120 million Indians have hypertension, and 40 million diabetes, with the country slated to become the diabetes capital of the world by 2050. Though diabetes rages among India’s rapidly expanding middle class, the country also experiences one of the highest rates of malnutrition, and is home to nearly one-third (57 million) of the world’s undernourished children, the majority of whom belong to the lowest economic classes and are anything but obese. The fact that obesity has become emblematic of poverty and malnutrition in the U.S is an ironic indicator of this nation’s wealth.
Photo courtesy of Julia Manzerova