White House Takes on Obesity Fight

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"I can't afford it," Amy Earley, a mother of three, told the Green Bay Press Gazette. "You're supposed to have how many servings of fruit and vegetables a day? I might have an apple. I'm lucky if I have one."

Like Earley, low-income families across the country have trouble affording fresh fruits and vegetables, much less actually finding them in their neighborhoods. But government funds should start making healthier foods more accessible for all Americans.

Under the action plan presented by the Childhood Obesity Task Force along with First Lady Michelle Obama, the White House aims to promote better access to healthy foods for all Americans as part of 124 pages worth of efforts to help kids lose weight.

Addressing a Lack of Access

Low-income families have long been resorting to unhealthy fast food and processed, packaged foods since it’s often easier to get a full meal on a dollar’s worth of fast food than a dollar’s worth of fruit. In turn, there’s little demand and therefore limited (if any) supply of fresh produce available, according to the task force’s report to President Obama.

What’s more, the prices on fruits and vegetables and the sheer volume required to meet nutrition recommendations – nine servings a day per person – can seem financially daunting for some.

Some lower-income neighborhoods tend to have plenty of fast food restaurants and discount stores like Target (Stock Quote: TGT) but no stores that sell fresh produce, notes Today’s Dietitian. And when fruits and vegetables are available, they might not sell well, quality may be subpar and, as a result, junk food can be all the more appealing.

The Plan

According to the White House task force, as the price of healthy food has risen, the cost of junk food has dropped. Yet studies have shown that when healthy foods are cheaper, grocery shoppers are more likely to buy them and as unhealthy food prices rise, their sales sink, making healthy foods more attractive to low-income shoppers.

Part of the reason why packaged foods can be much more affordable than fresh fruits and vegetables is that, currently, most government subisidies for food production go to soybeans, corn, rice, wheat and cotton producers. But if more funds go to fruit and vegetable producers, the task force reports that prices for healthy options could get cheaper.

Additionally, government subsidies could be used to make healthy foods in vending machines and school cafeterias cheaper than unhealthy foods, the task force report suggests.

The task force sets a goal of increasing fruits and vegetables in the U.S. food supply by 70% and reducing the rate of childhood obesity across the U.S. to 5% within 20 years compared with nearly 32% now.

The task force’s findings come with action as well. In this year alone, various agencies will use $400 million in investments in a Healthy Food Financing Initiative to bring more healthy food stores into underserved areas, another $60 million will go to local obesity prevention services and physical education programs, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be releasing new guidelines for nutrition and physical activity and the Federal Trade Commission will study how food is marketed to children.

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