By Ryan Laychak, Research Data Analyst
Each year, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation publishes their State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report which highlights the latest trends of obesity in the United States. This year’s report continues to show increases in obesity rates over the past five years, with 31 states having statistically significant increases in their obesity rates, and no statistically significant declines.
Research has also indicated that obesity rates are generally inversely correlated with income, with low-income individuals far more likely to be obese than higher-income individuals. Furthermore, low-income communities face challenges in accessing healthy foods in their communities due to the prevalence of food deserts, geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores.
To combat this, there are several programs and policies that aim to create settings in early childhood, schools and communities that can help Americans combat hunger and curb obesity:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food nutrition assistance program in the United States, with nearly two-thirds of participants being children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) serving nearly 7.3 million participants.
- The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) which provides federal funding to states to reimburse providers for the cost of providing nutritious meals and snacks to the 4.2 million children and 130,000 adults in their care.
- The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) is a public-private partnership that provides grants and loans to finance the construction and development of grocery stores and other healthy food retailers in these underserved areas.
However, substantial differences in obesity rates still exist between participants in federal nutrition assistance programs and those not enrolled. For example, according to WIC data, obesity rates among children enrolled in WIC are still much higher than the general population of children.
The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation conclude their report with the following recommendations:
- Promote policies and scale programs that take a multi-sector approach:
- Multi-sector, aligned initiatives are collaborations that can involve health departments, schools, transportation departments, local businesses, and other agencies.
- Adopt and implement policies that make healthy choices easy:
- Federal, state, and local governments can create conditions in schools, communities, and workplaces that make healthy eating and active living accessible, affordable, and convenient.
- Invest in programs that level the playing field for all individuals and families:
- While obesity affects all populations, some have significantly higher levels than others—often due to social and economic factors largely beyond their control, such as racism, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare. Carefully designed initiatives, that are informed by community input and address these challenges, are critically important in tackling this issue.
By continuing to support and expand these federal nutrition assistance programs, policymakers can ensure that children and families continue to have access to healthy and affordable food. To learn more about this topic, check out the Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse (SSRC) and their resources on the relationship between health equity and early childhood obesity prevention.