America the beautiful, or America the obese? With obesity rates on the rise and healthy foods becoming inaccessible or unaffordable for many, the nation is faced with the troubling question of how to make its people healthier.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that over one-third of adults are weighing in at the obese level, it is time to take action. Here at La Salle University, the Exploring Nutrition project has established itself in order to look at the surrounding community and explore the questions of obesity for itself.
Tom Wingert, the Project Manager for the La Salle’s Exploring Nutrition, saw the issues of “food insecurity” and poor nutrition in the area and decided to take matters into his own hands.
“It’s an expression of frustration,” Wingert said about the project.
Wingert explains that though there is so much research on the topic of poor nutrition and obesity in urban areas, the problem still persists. Though the introduction of The Fresh Grocer into the neighborhood in 2009 took the status of “food desert” away from the immediate area, it did not fix all nutritional issues.
Since it’s introduction, The Fresh Grocer has done its best to not only be a place to get hot food and healthy produce, but also strives to be a different type of grocery store in their extension into the community.
The Exploring Nutrition program, headed by Wingert, realizes that food alone is not enough and aims to team La Salle University with The Fresh Grocer and other community institutions in order to put an end to hunger and poor nutrition in the area.
“Instead of just feeding hunger people, we’re feeding hungry people good food,” Wingert said.
The Exploring Nutrition project is starting from scratch in order to find new answers and possibilities for this persisting issue. The project includes over 65 faculty and staff on board as well as partnerships with online journalism, market research, and digital art students. Though the project is still in its early stages of development, Wingert hopes it will help people in the area make better health choices.
“We’re not exactly sure how we’re going to change things, but we know people do want to change,” Wingert said.
The problem of obesity and poor nutrition is not something specific to La Salle University neighborhood; it is a nation-wide issue. According to the Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) Household Health Survey, one in five adults (22.8%) eat just one serving of fruits or vegetables each day. In many cases, adults in the SEPA areas have difficulty accessing fresh produce or cannot afford them.
“You can’t have access without affordability,” Jule Anne Hestenburg, an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at La Salle University, said.
Hestenburg is one of many people working on the Exploring Nutrition project. Hestenburg’s main goal in the project is to educate. Although no formal research has been conducted, exploratory research has guided Hestenburg to believe that change is necessary.
“The big dilemma is the lower you go in socioeconomic levels, the more obesity there is,” Hestenburg said.
And this is the case all across the country. According to A Place at the Table, an investigative documentary by the creators of Food, Inc., 50 million Americans suffer from food insecurity. Furthermore, since 1980 the prices of fruits and vegetables have gone up by 40 percent, and conversely food prices have gone down by 40 percent.
Hestenburg believes that projects like La Salle’s Exploring Nutrition or Philadelphia’s SHARE Food Program are the best solutions to fixing these issues.
“We’re not going to see the government get more involved in this,” Hestenburg said.
According to an article entitled The economics of obesity: dietary energy density and energy cost by Adam Drewnowski and Nicole Darmon, the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the United State are found among lower-income groups. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) states that more than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese. When comparing the national averages of obesity to this neighborhood’s, the community mostly reflects most NIDDK averages.
[All data taken from the NIDDK and the Community Health Data Base]
The Exploring Nutrition project aims to tackle the link between obesity in the area by finding a way to make healthy food not only affordable, but also accessible through educational programs such as Nutrition Links.
The program has also recently reached out to community institutions to help coordinate Easter food drives. One of the institutions was the Philippian Baptist Church located at 5801 N. Broad Street.
The future of the Exploring Nutrition project is still unknown, but working toward a healthier neighborhood is its prerogative. The university will contribute fresh ideas and new ways to explore these persisting issues in order to produce changes in the neighborhood.