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The Weekly Food Research and Action Center News Digest highlights what's new on hunger, nutrition and poverty issues at FRAC, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, around the network of national, state and local anti-poverty and anti-hunger organizations, and in the media. The Digest will alert you to trends, reports, news items and resources and, when available, link you directly to them.
Issue #5, March 5, 2014
- SNAP Program Cuts Have Public Health Repercussions
- New York State Will Increase LIHEAP Funding to Protect SNAP Benefits for Thousands
- Farm Bill Provision Requires Convenience Stores Carry “Staple Foods”
- SNAP Recipients Document Their Food Insecurity Struggles
- First Lady Highlights Community Eligibility During White House Event with USDA Secretary
- Hospital Systems Viewing Hunger as Public Health Issue
- Free Bus Service Aims at Expanding Food Desert Access to Grocery Stores
- CDC Reports Decrease in Obesity Rate for Young Children
- USDA Report Finds Americans Eating Healthier
- Blacks, Hispanics Disproportionately Hit by Housing Crash
- Health Care Law Outreach Focuses on 25 Metro Areas
- Research Says Retailers Abandoning Shrinking Middle Class
1. SNAP Program Cuts Have Public Health Repercussions
(Chicago Magazine, February 5, 2014)
The recent approval of the Farm Bill containing cuts to the SNAP Program focused much attention on the economic benefits of the program. However, SNAP is a public health program as well. Research published last year, titled “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” found that pre and post-natal SNAP access (and through SNAP, more nutritious food) is associated with a lower prevalence of later-life health problems, particularly obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. In addition, there are strong correlations between SNAP access in early and later childhood and beneficial adult economic outcomes. The study’s authors, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach at Northwestern and Hilary Hoynes of Berkeley, noted studies that show if nutrients are scarce during pre-natal and early post-natal periods, an infant’s developing body will predict a future that’s nutritionally deprived. “The body may then invoke (difficult-to-reverse) biological mechanisms to adapt to the predicted future environment,” write the authors.
2. New York State Will Increase LIHEAP Funding to Protect SNAP Benefits for Thousands
(LongIsland.com, February 26, 2014)
New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state, through the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, will provide about $6 million to increase Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefits for SNAP households participating in the heating program, so that they may continue to receive SNAP nutrition assistance. The Farm Bill’s SNAP cuts “have made it harder for our state’s most vulnerable residents to put food on the table,” said Gov. Cuomo. “The state has intervened on behalf of these low-income New Yorkers to make sure they can get food for themselves and their families.” Without the additional LIHEAP funding, SNAP benefits in the state would decrease by about $457 million, and affected households would lose an average of $127 in SNAP benefits each month. About 300,000 New York households will benefit from the additional funding. “I want to thank Governor Cuomo for ensuring New York families are not punished by the Farm Bill,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “I hope other Governors in heat and eat states will follow his strong leadership.”
3. Farm Bill Provision Requires Convenience Stores Carry “Staple Foods”
(ABC15, February 7, 2014)
A little-noticed section in the Farm Bill that President Obama recently signed requires convenience stores to increase the “depth of stock” in four staple items – bread or cereals, fruits or vegetables, dairy products, and meat, poultry or fish – in order to continue accepting SNAP benefits. Stores will now have to have at least seven items in each staple food category, instead of just three. Kristi L. King of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said she was “happy with the increase in variety for SNAP participants” that the new provision brings, but cautions that it is “essential” that education be provided for retailers and SNAP recipients. “I have seen healthy options at the convenience stores, but consumers must remember that convenience stores are meant to supplement needs, not to be a full grocery store,” said King. “One should not rely solely on convenience stores to do a majority of shopping with their SNAP funds.” Kelly Jackson, a registered dietician and professor at the University of Arizona’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, said some convenience stores are not equipped for a fresh fruit turnover rate, and may have trouble increasing stock. In Arizona, a higher percentage of the population lives in “food deserts” and relies on convenience stores for grocery shopping.
4. SNAP Recipients Document Their Food Insecurity Struggles
(PBS Newshour, February18, 2014)
Through the “Hunger Through My Lens” project, SNAP recipients in Colorado are documenting their struggles with hunger and food insecurity. The project, sponsored by Hunger Free Colorado, provides cameras to SNAP participants and asks them to take pictures showing what it’s like to experience hunger in America. “This issue is hard to talk about,” said Kathy Underhill, director of Hunger Free Colorado. “There’s so much stigma attached to hunger in America.” She said that the participant’s photos and stories help dispel the myth of exactly who is hungry in the nation. “[T]he truth is, you’re most likely to live in a hungry household in Colorado if you’re between the ages of 0 and 5,” notes Underhill. “You’re most likely to be hungry if you’re an older adult or a single woman. So it’s incredibly important for folks to understand that hunger can impact anybody.” One participant, a mom with two kids, said “After I lost my job...just the act of making the shopping list caused stress, knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford many of the items on the list.” Another participant’s family relies on SNAP and their garden – and it seemed particularly cruel to them last November when SNAP benefits were cut and a frost killed the last of their vegetables. And a participant with AIDS noted that her medicine doesn’t work if she’s not eating right.
5. First Lady Highlights Community Eligibility During White House Event with USDA Secretary
(Education Week, February 25, 2014)
First Lady Michelle Obama, in a recent White House event with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, highlighted the expansion of the community eligibility provision, which allows schools with high numbers of low-income students to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students. Eleven states have already implemented community eligibility, and beginning July 1, all schools across the country will be able to take advantage of the program. USDA also released a report detailing the program’s success in the 11 states. Community eligibility uses data from SNAP and other means-tested programs to eliminate paper applications; the rollout to all states will mean an additional 22,000 schools will be able to participate. “There’s a stigma associated with participating in school breakfast programs,” said Mrs. Obama. Offering the meal to all students helps remove the stigma. Research shows that if they eat breakfast, students perform better in class, achieve at higher levels, and are better behaved and more attentive in school. The First Lady also unveiled new rules to help shield students from junk food ads while they are in school. USDA will launch a website – “School Nutrition Environment and Wellness Resources” – to help implement the new rules about marketing food and beverages to children in school.
6. Hospital Systems Viewing Hunger as Public Health Issue
(US News & World Report, February 13, 2014)
The Affordable Care Act, which strengthened the requirement that nonprofit hospitals provide “community benefit” programs in order to justify their tax-exempt status, has pushed some hospital systems to treat hunger as a public health issue by screening patients for food insecurity and providing various forms of assistance. Hunger can have a huge impact on health, yet the nation’s health expenditures focus on medical care, and a miniscule amount is spent on prevention, according to a 2013 University of Maryland study. Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica hospital system began screening for hunger last fall at some of its hospitals, signing up eligible patients for SNAP, part of the system’s “Come to the Table” initiative that includes distributing food to the needy. Massachusetts General Hospital has screened senior and youth patients for food insecurity since 2008; answering “yes” to one of two screening questions directs hospital staff to assist patients with completing the SNAP application. The system's clinics in Chelsea and Revere help individuals apply for WIC. According to Melissa Dimond, manager of Mass. General’s community initiatives/health living, 41 percent of the women visiting the clinics last year were identified as food insecure. “Foods are one of the main drivers of health or disease,” said Dimond. As senior executive at Connecticut’s New Milford Hospital a few years ago, Marydale DeBor, founder and director of Fresh Advantage, noticed high malnutrition among older patients, and noted that patients
would often be readmitted as lack of food made underlying health conditions worse. Developing the anti-hunger initiatives and providing assistance to communities is “not a burden from a resource standpoint,” said Randy Oostra, president and CEO of ProMedica.
7. Free Bus Service Aims at Expanding Food Desert Access to Grocery Stores
(Quad City Times, February 11, 2014)
A portion of Rock Island, Illinois’ population lives in a food desert, which is a low-income neighborhood without access to stores offering healthy, affordable food. Residents of the area without a car, or access to public transportation, will be able to ride a free bus once each month to large grocery stores which can be up to a half-mile to a mile away. USDA’s SNAP education program is providing $14,000 for operating the Supermarket Shuttle; the program is being managed through the University of Illinois Extension, and the funding is paying for the bus operation as well as a part-time educator, marketing, and materials. The Extension educator will provide bus riders with information on food, nutrition, wellness and saving money. “It won’t be a formal presentation, but rather than riding in silence and looking out the window, we’ll have an educator talk informally, but directly, about what’s on sale, five ways to cook a chicken, what to do with squash, have you ever tried to eat a certain kind of vegetable,” said Betty Gavin of the University of Illinois Extension – Rock Island County. The Supermarket Shuttle idea came out of many brainstorming ideas on how to improve access to nutritious foods for those not close to grocery stores. “We finally said, ‘Has anybody tried just bringing people out to these stores?’” said Gavin.
8. CDC Reports Decrease in Obesity Rate for Young Children
(The New York Times, February 25, 2014)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the obesity rate for two to five-year-old children dropped 43 percent over the past decade. “This is the first time we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group,” said Cynthia L. Ogden, a CDC researcher and lead author of the report published in the AMA Journal. Obesity can lead to lifelong weight struggles and is associated with higher risks of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Barry M. Popkin, a University of North Carolina researcher, credited the decrease in part to changes in the WIC food package. WIC subsidizes food for low-income women, and reduced the funding for fruit juices, cheese and eggs while increasing funding for whole fruits and vegetables. A combination of state, local and federal policies aimed at reducing obesity is another possible explanation for the decrease. “This is great news, but I’m cautious,” said Ruth Loos, professor of preventive medicine Mount Sinai hospital in New York. “The picture will be clearer when we have a few more years of data.”
9. USDA Report Finds Americans Eating Healthier
(CNN, January 21, 2014)
From 2005-06 to 2009-10, daily caloric intake by adults dropped by five percent (118 calories), Americans ate 53 fewer fast food calories daily between 2005-06, and more people are eating at home. USDA released these statistics in a report based on findings from adults born between 1946 and 1985. The adults were asked about their diets from 2005 to 2010. In addition, more adults said that, while grocery shopping, they paid more attention to nutrition guidelines.
10. Blacks, Hispanics Disproportionately Hit by Housing Crash
(America’s Money News, January 16, 2014)
Research recently released by real estate website Zillow in coordination with the National Urban League show that home values in Hispanic neighborhoods fell an average of 46 percent from their peak in mid-2006 to their lowest point in 2012. Black communities saw a drop of 32 percent. White and Asian community home prices fell 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The report studied government data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act in addition to Zillow’s own home price index and Ipsos survey information. “[M]inority home buyers are encountering difficulties that often aren’t shared by white home buyers,” said Stan Humphries, Zillow chief economist. “Even after they achieve the dream, [Black and Hispanic communities] have been less likely to see a similar return on their investment.” Blacks and Hispanics are also much less likely than whites and Asians to be approved for a home mortgage, and they are less likely to apply for a mortgage, according to the study.
11. Health Care Law Outreach Focuses on 25 Metro Areas
(CNBC, February 5, 2014)
An Associated Press study, conducted by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, found that half of America’s uninsured live in 116 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, and the figures mirror Obama Administration findings. Now that the HealthCare.gov website has been improved, the administration’s figures are being used to focus health care application outreach on 25 key metro areas*. The AP research found that Los Angeles is a top county for uninsured. The federal outreach effort will not include states conducting their own efforts – like California, New York and Illinois. While the uninsured are mostly in urban areas, data can be used to find the uninsured in rural areas, according to senior researcher Brett Fried.
*Including Dallas, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Northern New Jersey “megalopolis,” Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Nashville, Charlotte, NC.
12. Research Says Retailers Abandoning Shrinking Middle Class
(The New York Times, February 2, 2014)
The top five percent of earners in the U.S. were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption in 2012, an increase from 28 percent in 1995, according to new research by economists Steven Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis, and Barry Cynamon of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. They also found that the current economic recovery is largely the result of the “upper crust,” as the top earners increased spending since 2009 by 17 percent, while the bottom 95 percent increased spending by only one percent. The business world is reacting to these numbers by focusing more intently on either the top tier of spenders or the bottom group, while abandoning the middle class. Fine dining restaurants are thriving while some chains are struggling, and sales of mass market dishwashers and refrigerators are being outpaced by sales of high end appliances. “Those consumers who have capital like real estate and stocks and are in the top 20 percent are feeling pretty good,” said John G. Maxwell, who heads the global retail and consumer practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. The firm’s big store and restaurant clients are going after richer customers or pursuing the larger number of budget-minded customers with extremely low prices. “As a retailer or restaurant chain, if you’re not at the really high level or the low level, that’s a tough place to be,” said Maxwell.