Happy & Healthy

Healthy Food “Choices” Aren’t Available to Many Low-Income Families

This post is part of a five part series on sugar and healthy eating. Check them out by clicking this link!

In sharing my concerns around the sugar in my daughters’ classroom, (which is by NO means out of the ordinary!) I was surprised to get a reaction from a posting I got on Facebook. The commenter said:

“That’s a lot of junk but, completely banning sugar is ridiculous. Teach your children to eat right and set examples at home. Unless they are eating this crap everyday I don’t see the problem.”

Well, the first response I had to this was…. “It’s not just about one or two birthday parties a year.” Do the math. If there are 20 to 30 kids per class (in grades K-5) and there are roughly 40 weeks per year. If you add in Halloween, Easter, Valentines, Christmas/Winter holiday, and End of the Year Celebrations, you’re kid is basically guaranteed to eat a sugar bomb every week of the school year. Yikes!

Add to this the fact that many low-income children DON’T have access to healthy food everyday, other than the food they eat at school. Families that are food insecure rely on their kids getting breakfast and lunch each day at school. Many low-income families also live in locations where getting access to healthy food is difficult. Stating it’s a “parent problem” smacks of coded racism and classism. (“Parents today! If they’d just do their job, society wouldn’t’ be in the state it is today!”) These arguments imply poor and working class people deserve to have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease because… well they should know better and stop being so ignorant and lazy.

Not all Families Have Access to Fresh Healthy Food

If you are privileged, you may take for granted some of the basic needs families have to raise healthy, happy children. Basics like clean water, healthy food, secure housing are really not available for many poor and working class families in our country.

Here are some of the facts:

  • A “food desert” is a neighborhood where people have little access to grocery stores or markets that sell fresh fruits or vegetables
  • 23.5 million Americans, 6.5 million children currently live in food deserts
  • 80% of food deserts are in city areas where people live further than 1 mile from a store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables

Stranded in a Food Desert

I saw a great example of this on the Nightly Show recently. In hilarious and glaringly obvious detail, this comedic bit illustrates the fact that for many American families access to healthy food isn’t really about choice. This video clearly shows the disparities that exist for families across various income levels in getting access to fresh fruits and vegetables.


What Can We Do About This?

According to FeedingAmerica.org, an organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity, 48 million people in the United States are living in food insecure households, 15 million of whom are children.

That’s not OK!

It’s time we stopped blaming poor and low-income families for the lack of healthy food in their communities. As caring parents, we can feel overwhelmed by these statistics, or we can take action in our local communities to do something about it.

My daughter’s school is a great example of a community that has come together to do just that. Our school social worker noticed that even though our school is located near Chinatown, a neighborhood with lots of markets selling healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, there were very little if any food banks. Based on this information, she organized a volunteer driven “Farmer’s Market” which gives out fresh and healthy food every Monday to any family that signs up. Calling it a Farmer’s Market removes any negative stigma for low-income families and helps our school promote healthy eating among all families. Being a volunteer powered initiative, the market has also increased parent involvement and community at our school.

How is your school community addressing food insecurity and access to fresh and healthy food? Please share resources and ideas in the comments below!

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