October 27, 2011; Source: Westword | Nutrition education programs promoting healthy eating habits are spreading in schools throughout the country, and one Colorado-based nonprofit provides an interesting case study for why the country’s changing demographics makes this focus on food so important right now. According to Westword, at an event last week in Denver representatives from the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy organization focusing on health and education, revealed that children in Colorado are experiencing rising rates of hunger and obesity. As indicators of this relatively recent shift, representatives from the organization explained that between 2000 and 2009 the number of children living in poverty in the state doubled, and that the state jumped from having the second lowest rate of obese and overweight children in 2003 to having the tenth highest rate in 2007 (the second highest rate of growth, behind Nevada). As added evidence of the severity of the situation in the state, last year one in five children was living in a household where the availability of food was uncertain or “insecure” at least once, and one in six children currently lives in poverty. 

In an effort to reconcile the seemingly conflicting findings of rising rates of obesity and food insecurity, the Children’s Campaign invited Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a research organization focused on advancing social and economic equity, to speak. Blackwell explained that “both are driven by poverty,” and emphasized the value of food programs such as the Pennsylvania Food Financing Initiative that provide nutrition education and fresh food to underserved communities.

Bill Shore, founder and CEO of Share our Strength and also an attendee at the event added that preexisting free and reduced-price lunch programs could make it possible to definitively end childhood hunger by 2015. “If you think of our school lunch or school breakfast programs or summer meals, these are programs that have been around for 35, 40 years, they have bi-partisan support, they are one of the few things Democrats and Republicans agree on by and large, and the amazing thing is, even in this era of budget constraints, they’re funded,” he said. Shore also highlighted the ongoing problem of children and families not being aware of state and federal benefits, and as a result not claiming them. As a gentle reminder for an audience of adults, he noted, “They’re kids, they don’t belong to political actions committees, they don’t have lobbyists, they don’t make campaign contributions.”—Anne Eigeman