Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? It’s not what you think

The verdict is in: Food deserts don’t drive nutritional disparities in the United States the way we thought. Over the last decade, study after study has shown that differences in access to healthful food can’t fully explain why wealthy Americans consume a more healthful diet than poor Americans.

If food deserts aren’t to blame, then what is?

I’ve spent the better part of a decade working to answer this question. I interviewed 73 California families — more than 150 parents and kids — and spent more than 100 hours observing their daily dietary habits, tagging along to grocery stores and drive-through windows. My research suggests that families’ socioeconomic status affected not just their access to healthful food, but something even more fundamental: the meaning of food.

Most of the parents I interviewed — poor and affluent — wanted their kids to eat nutritious food and believed in the importance of a healthful diet.

But parents were also constantly bombarded with requests for junk food from their kids. Across households, children asked for foods high in sugar, salt and fat. They wanted Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, not broccoli and sweet potatoes. One mom echoed countless others when she told me that her kids “always want junk.”

While both wealthy and poor kids asked for junk food, the parents responded differently to these pleas.

An overwhelming majority of the wealthy parents told me that they routinely said “no” to requests for junk food. In 96 percent of high-income families, at least one parent reported that they regularly decline such requests.

Parents from poor families, however, almost always said “yes” to junk food. Only 13 percent of low-income families had a parent that reported regularly declining their kids’ requests.

One reason for this disparity is that kids’ food requests meant drastically different things to the parents.

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One in five Dallas-area children live in poverty, report finds

One in five children in North Texas lives in poverty, with more than 260,000 kids in the area considered food insecure, according to a biennial study released Tuesday from Children’s Health and the University of Texas-Dallas. A 97-page report — ‘Beyond ABC’ — offered a comprehensive look at the well-being of children in Dallas County and its five northern neighbors: Collin, Cooke, Denton, Grayson and Fannin counties.

“The challenges aren’t going away,”said Timothy Bray, the director of the Institute of Urban Policy Research at UT-Dallas, and one of the authors of the report.

Focused on four indicators — health, economic security, safety and education — the findings were sobering. Included in the report:

–The rates of uninsured children in Dallas, Cooke, Fannin and Grayson counties were double the national average.

–Texas ranks last in per-capita funding for mental illness.

–For single parents earning a poverty wage, early child-care costs could account for nearly half their income.

–In Fannin County, CPS caseloads were more than double the state average, with 50.3 cases per caseworker in 2016.

–North Texas has less than half as many approved foster homes (1,244) as children needing placement.

–There were almost 7,500 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in North Texas last year.

–More than half of third-grade students in the six counties, nearly 30,000, were reading below grade level.

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SNAP is a food program — not a jobs program

All Texans deserve the chance to provide for themselves and their families. But our modern, fast-changing economy is full of both opportunity and risk. Nearly everyone reading this knows a friend or family member who recently found themselves jobless, under-employed or struggling to pay unexpected bills.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) is part of our nation’s insurance against economic uncertainty. SNAP guarantees that in a nation blessed with such agricultural abundance, none of our loved ones should go hungry while they get back on their feet.

But recent debates in Washington, from the federal budget to the farm bill, haven’t focused on SNAP’s success fighting hunger. Instead, lawmakers are looking to hold SNAP accountable for the problems in our economy and labor market that cause people to fall on hard times and turn to SNAP for help.

That’s a tall order for a program built to provide a basic human need. SNAP was designed as an income support, not a jobs program. That’s reasonable when one considers that most SNAP participants are children, seniors or people with disabilities; and that the majority of SNAP recipients who can work already do — just not at jobs that let them escape poverty.

Still, a small percentage of SNAP recipients (including those known as able-bodied adults without dependents) may be reasonably able and expected to use SNAP as a bridge back to work. Congress should look for ways to strengthen this bridge, but not in a way that undermines SNAP’s role in ensuring every American has enough food to build a healthy, productive life.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what proposals from congressional leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan would do. These call for steep funding cuts combined with more state flexibility to deny benefits to those in need, and greater punishment for folks who struggle to find work. These policies don’t reflect who benefits from SNAP today, or the various barriers to success in our modern job market.

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Big Tex Urban Farms is the backbone of a budding southern Dallas food system

Drew Demler is digging in a box of dirt in the middle of Fair Park. He is harvesting potatoes — big, small, misshapen, one that even looks like a snowman — in a hotter-than-deep-fried parking lot just outside the Cotton Bowl.

“I think potatoes and onions are two of the most important crops that we grow,” Demler, farm manager at Big Tex Urban Farms, says as he uses his bare hands to search for the tubers. “They’re hearty and prolific, and their storage life is long.”

Demler and landscape supervisor Barron Horton take about an hour to harvest potatoes from four raised wooden containers on one side of the farm. There are more than 500 other planting beds around them, full of vegetables in various stages of promise — peppers, black-eyed peas, okra, squash, zucchini.

They bag the potatoes, take them to a weighing station and pack them in crates. They hop in the car and drive the crates about 2 miles down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Cornerstone Baptist Church’s Community Kitchen, where they will be chopped, cooked and served in one of the 7,000 meals the church feeds the homeless and hungry of the South Dallas community every month.

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More children living in high-poverty neighborhoods following Great Recession

More children are living in high-poverty neighborhoods following the Great Recession – a troubling shift because children in these neighborhoods are a year behind academically, according to new research from researchers at Rice University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin.

“Family Poverty and Neighborhood Poverty: Links With Children’s School Readiness Before and After the Great Recession” examines how neighborhood and family poverty predict children’s academic skills and classroom behavior when they start school, and whether associations have changed over a period of 12 years that included the 2008 recession. The researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study and examined cohorts of kindergarteners from across the U.S. in 1998 and 2010.

The research revealed that more children whose parents were not already poor were living in high-poverty neighborhoods following the Great Recession. In 1998, 36 percent of children lived in moderate-low, moderate-high and high-poverty neighborhoods. In 2010, the number rose to 43.9 percent.

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What Do we Think Poverty Looks Like?

Several years ago, during a harsh Detroit winter, I swallowed my pride and applied for food stamps. I wasn’t sure I’d qualify, but I knew three things. I had little money in the bank, little chance of quickly earning more and I needed to eat. So I tried my luck with the government.

I received $16 a month in benefits. By my cynical calculation, the eight hours I had spent applying would pay for itself, at minimum wage, after four months. I was grateful for the help. Usually, my $4 a week bought bacon, which could stretch several batches of beans.

Being broke wasn’t new to me. Food stamps, officially known as SNAP, were. My family had battled medical debt and unemployment when I was a kid, and I started working at 14. When I got a partial college scholarship and left my rural Michigan hometown, I made tuition and rent by juggling up to five jobs at once. I prided myself on never asking for help.

At age 34, though, I faced the awkward, privileged dilemma of a working-class journalist: I’d accepted a book contract to write about poverty, but it turned out to be too small to cover my health insurance and rent. I saw two options. Get a job, return my advance and abandon two years’ worth of work — or somehow continue working on my book without an income.

So food stamps it was. I knew I qualified, but it still felt like there was some kind of mistake. After all, I was a college-educated white woman who worked. I wasn’t “really” poor.

And that raises a thorny political question: Who, exactly, did I think was poor?

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To improve patient diets, the doctor is in … the kitchen

Special Correspondent Allison Aubrey, NPR News Reports

More and more doctors are using the kitchen as a place to prescribe a powerful medicine: healthy food. With poor diets linked to many deaths from preventable diseases, research has found that changing diet and becoming active can be more effective than medication in preventing disease.

“The idea that you can bring doctors and other health care professionals into the kitchen to teach people that changing their diets can actually help them prevent disease is starting to catch on.

…some 500 doctors and health professionals recently got a crash course in how to build food and nutrition into their medical practices. They spent four days sauteeing, slicing and tasting.”

Learn more about this growing trend at

Meals on Wheels is ‘not showing any results’ only if you ignore all these results

 March 16 at 5:10 PM

At a news conference Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget chief, defended proposed cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, which provides food aid to needy senior citizens, by saying the program is one of many that is “just not showing any results.”

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit group that receives funding from the federal government, state and local governments and private donors. “We serve more than 2.4 million seniors from 60 to 100+ years old each year,” the organization writes. “They are primarily older than 60 and because of physical limitations or financial reasons, have difficulty shopping for or preparing meals for themselves.”

If that doesn’t clear the bar for “results,” as Mulvaney put it, there’s also been a fair amount of peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of the program.

Continue reading here for more about the research findings

How one Dallas nonprofit is expanding healthy food access, one community garden at a time

It’s not necessarily about the lettuce, tomatoes and carrots. In many ways, gardens are about the good they do for the growers and others. It’s about the community.
That’s what the leaders of community gardens say.

“We all eat. We all make food memories. It’s a very important aspect of who we are,” says Susie Marshall. That aspect of food is very important to the community. It breaks down walls and breaks down barriers.”

Marshall is founder and executive director of GROW North Texas, an organization promoting sustainable local food production and healthy food access. It, in turn, is part of the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions, which has six programs to help reduce hunger in the Dallas area.

The coalition helps promote meal programs in schools, working to bring food to Dallas schoolchildren and publicizing the summer lunch program. It helps coordinate food programs among faith communities and aids in helping communities organize.

The senior component helps older residents know if they are available for benefits such as SNAP and can help them apply. It also promotes local groups that provide group meals for older residents.

Urban agriculture — growing good food on bits of land in cities as a way of providing healthy food — also is part of the outreach.

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