SNAP should double down on fresh produce

12/28/2012 09:38:00 AM
Fred Wilkinson

Fred Wilkinson, Managing EditorWhile the news is often filled with stories of decline in the U.S. — home prices, influence in the world, etc. — one area where the nation perennially seems to be a leader is our expanding waistlines.

But maybe all-you-can-eat cotton candy and the Chocolate Wonderfall at the value-priced steak buffet Golden Corral have proved a bridge too far for the seemingly insatiable American appetite.

New research detailed in a New York Times article published Christmas Day shows a healthy trend may be developing among one of the most nutritionally at-risk populations — young children of low-income families involved in government feeding efforts.

A national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests modest declines in obesity among children ages 2-4.

The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at height and weight measurements of 27 million children who were part of the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food subsidies to low-income mothers and their children up to the age of 5.

The researchers found that from 1998 to 2010 the number of obese children declined to 14.9% in 2010, down from 15.2% in 2003, after rising between 1998 and 2003.

OK, it’s not a dramatic change.

But it is a step in the right direction and a concrete finding that hopefully will bolster some positive trends in government nutrition programs.

It is also noteworthy that fresh fruits and vegetables won their place in the WIC program in fall 2009, within the time frame when the study found obesity dropping slightly among kids in the program.

The news follows a streak of produce industry successes in the food policy arena in the past several years — notably, in addition to the WIC effort, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program in schools nationwide.

The produce industry’s school salad bar program deserves a mention here as well.

Of course, while the correlation between the study findings and the increase in feeding efforts’ fresh produce offerings can be assumed, it can’t be proved.

Still, it’s reason for cautious optimism in the fight against obesity and related disease.

More important, it’s a powerful talking point in lobbying for an even stronger fresh produce presence in government food and nutrition programs.


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