Although Philadelphia is no longer the fattest city in America, as it was at the turn of the millennium, it still ranks in the top 20, according to the American Obesity Association.
The issue of obesity was brought into the spotlight last week when First Lady Michelle Obama visited Philadelphia to promote her anti-obesity campaign, titled “Let’s Move.” Though many think a healthy lifestyle can easily be achieved through diet and exercise, the success of anti-obesity programs depends on a host of external factors, according to experts.
“Let’s Move” emphasizes four points: healthier choices, healthier schools, more physical activity and increased accessibility and affordability of healthy foods.
“Basically, it aims to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation,” Nursing professor Stella Volpe said.
The Obama administration has set aside $400 million to generate new grocery stores and fresh-food retailers in areas where they are lacking, like inner cities.
Philadelphia has the second-lowest number of supermarkets per capita in the country, according to the Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based food-access group. These are often compensated for by corner stores, fast food chains and drug stores, which do not offer adequate nutrition at affordable prices.
Political science lecturer Mary Summers, who teaches a class called “The Politics of Food and Agriculture,” said there exists a perception that obesity is the result of people not getting enough exercise — a “blaming the victim kind of talk,” that doesn’t consider barriers within the agriculture industry.
Researchers have to consider a whole spectrum of variables, including environmental issues, global warming and even animal welfare issues, she added.
The First Lady has been a good model in using the White House garden, the White House chef and now her “Let’s Move” program to promote healthier eating, Summers said. The program encompasses “the kind of mantra to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, and less junk food,” Summers added.
The First Lady is emphasizing both hunger and lack of food access as well as obesity by mentioning “food deserts,” areas such as inner cities where nutritious foods are hard to come by.
Studies have shown residents in areas of Philadelphia that lack grocery stores tend to have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, according to Summers.
Danny Gerber, director of the Urban Nutrition Initiative, part of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at Penn, hopes the “Let’s Move” campaign will highlight the many programs currently running in Philadelphia.
There will be renewed emphasis on improving the quality of school lunches, he said, especially with the upcoming renewal of the Child Nutrition Act, which provides public schools funding to go toward lunches for underprivileged children.
Summers hopes state programs that provide free meals at schools where enough students are food stamp-eligible, such as the School Breakfast Program, will be improved so that they offer healthier and more appetizing options.
Sometimes meals look like “a bad TV dinner,” she said, adding that kids throw away such meals and end up hungry during the day.
Michelle Obama seems to be focusing on concrete goals, rather than trying to tackle to whole food industry, Summers said.
Programs such as the fruit stands run by the Urban Nutrition Initiative in collaboration with Penn students once a week exemplify the changes occurring at the community level. The program has been running since 1995.
Laquanda Dobson, a senior at University City High School who is involved with the UNI, said most students think a burger and fries will fill them, not realizing that fast food provides empty calories.Comments powered by Disqus
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