Imagine yourself living in a home where you are unsure whether you will be eating every night. On the nights that you are lucky enough to have food, your dinner is the cheapest option available, such as a fast food restaurant.
This is the reality many children living in our community face.
The repercussions of long exposure to an unhealthy diet has proven to have long-term health effects. Low-income families do not have the accessibility to food or funds to provide nutritious meals to sustain the growing bodies of their children.
As social work interns in the Garden Grove school district, we have seen first-hand the presence of childhood obesity among those living in poverty. Unfortunately, over half the students that are assigned to us are living in poverty and overweight. We have witnessed the effect that poor diet can have on a student’s school performance and emotional state, such as lower test scores, higher rates of distraction in the classroom, depression, and lower self-esteem.
We want to make a difference.
According to the 2016 Orange County Community Indicators, over one-third of children in the lowest income cities of Orange County: Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove and Orange, are overweight or obese. It has been found that obesity and poverty have a positive correlation. A national study of more than 40,000 children found that children from lower-income households had more than two times more likely to be obese than children from higher-income households (Singh et al., 2010a). Even though national programs help provide children from low-income families with nutritious meals during school hours, children are still at the mercy of their family’s income at home. There are policies that attempt to provide services for families, but many of these programs only offer limited time assistance or have difficult eligibility requirements. Programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), help the issue of food insecurity, but their applications can be time-consuming, intrusive and stigmatizing (Stern, 2015). The programs also fail to assist those who make fractions above the required income level to obtain assistance, but not enough to provide healthy food options for their children. Health disparities are caused by a combination of economic and social factors, including low-income families’ inability to access affordable nutritious food (Jansson, 2016). The current national legislation on child health is not enough to keep our community’s children healthy, so we suggest action to combat this issue.
Some Orange County schools have taken initiative to close the gap between low-income students’ nutrition at school and in the home. Programs like the Lion’s Den Pantry at Lincoln Elementary School, are on the forefront of this issue, since 80 percent of their 977 students qualify for free or reduced lunches at school. The program allows over 450 families to make appointments for the pantry before or after school. The parents can fill two grocery bags worth of fruits and vegetables to provide their families healthy food.
This program was created due to a $30,000 grant given by Target and is maintained and supported by the Second Harvest Food Bank.
More schools should work towards providing families with access to nutritious food, especially those with large populations of low-income students. The Lion’s Den Pantry is a great program, but acquiring funding for a pantry at all schools will be difficult. A more realistic approach to improving access and affordability of food for low-income families is the Food Bank that could offer wholesale priced food markets in schools. The organization can acquire bulk food items from vendors and then sell these individual food items to families at wholesale price, providing them cheaper and healthier options at a convenient location. Upon more financial support from companies like Target, the program can allow the families to pay the low wholesale price, while the families that qualify to receive free meals from the school can obtain the food for free from the organization.
There have been studies that have shown that it is “expensive to be poor.” With an example as simple as toilet paper, it has been proven that people who cannot afford to buy items in bulk, end up paying more for necessities. People from lower-income households may not have access to cars, so they have to walk or take a bus. This leaves families having to make the same purchases at an overpriced local mini mart, or other smaller chain stores because they do not have access to stores such as Costco that sell items at wholesale price. Providing a wholesale market in locations that are convenient and consistently frequented by low-income families, such as their child’s school, will allow for better access to more affordable food, and help alleviate childhood obesity.
Michelle Greene and Terri Scott are Master of Social Work students at the University of Southern California. They both serve as counselors in the Garden Grove School Unified School District.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org