The Obama administration is working on setting nutritional standards for foods that children can buy in school vending machines. This action is one of many that President Obama initiated in an attempt to curb the increase in obesity among American children, but it only addresses a small piece of a large problem across the United States. Neighborhoods, communities and cities only have access to small convenience stores that only carry the “vending machine” foods that hold little nutrients and high levels of sugar and calories.
In college I volunteered at a local church’s weekly food drive. When I first started, I paid little attention to the food we were handing out, especially after seeing how grateful the recipients were for what they were given. Eventually, however, I questioned a superior about why we always hand out unhealthy chips from the large assorted packs. She responded plainly and without missing a beat, “We get these for free.” Mark Bittman, in a New York Times article, compares a McDonald’s order for four to a meal of roasted chicken, vegetables, salad and milk. In this comparison the home-cooked meal came out to be half the price of the meal purchased from McDonald’s.
Bittman dismisses a common misconception arguing, “the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food.” Cheap, fresh produce and meats can and must be offered in these low-income neighborhoods in order to transform these food deserts into places where people have the opportunity to eat healthily.
On a similar note the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) has had little success in carrying out its motto of “putting healthy food within reach.” Today 12 percent of adolescents and 14 percent of children 6-11 years old are overweight, and the prevalence of overweight children is increasing. One reason why this program has not been successful is lack of education for the individuals enrolled. Education on how to spend the money is vital to the success of the program. Children and parents alike have to become knowledgeable of the adverse effects associated with the junk food they are consuming. While a common solution in America is to throw money at a problem, this problem requires a transformation of cultural values and daily habits.
We must require the food and drink companies who give money as sponsors to our education systems to provide our children with healthy alternatives in the vending machines at schools. We also have to look at this same problem at a larger scale. The accessibility to junk food has contributed to a 30 percent increase in childhood obesity and a number of other health complications. We don’t have to spend more; we just have to allocate the money we spend to provide these low-income individuals with easier access to education and higher quality foods to manage the health crisis we face today.