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NYC Children Struggle with Hunger, Obesity
Published on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 by Reuters
NYC Children Struggle with Hunger, Obesity
by Michelle Nichols
 
One quarter of New York City's 1.9 million children live in poverty -- 50 percent higher than the United States average -- and many of these children are overweight, a food supply group said on Tuesday.

The Food Bank for New York City said more than 40 percent of children in the Head Start program, which fosters healthy development of children up to age 5 from low-income families, were overweight or obese.

A Food Bank report titled "Growing up hungry in New York City: An analysis of hunger among children" also showed nearly one-fifth of New York City's children rely on free food to survive, and 40 percent of families with children experienced difficulty affording food in 2005.

"They don't have very much money available to pay for their groceries and so they must buy the cheapest food available in order to keep their children fed," Aine Duggan, the group's vice president of government relations, told Reuters.

"Unfortunately what that means is they're buying the food that's highest in fat content and calorie content because the cheapest food available tends to be fatty food."

Duggan said fresh fruit and vegetables were not as widely available in low-income areas as they were in middle-class neighborhoods.

Overall, nearly half the city's primary school children were overweight or obese, the report said.

It also showed that of the 1.2 million New Yorkers using emergency food programs, such as soup kitchens or food pantries, more than 80 percent survive on annual incomes of less than $15,000.

"The federal poverty level is just over $16,000 for a family of three. There's just no way that a family living on $14,000 or $16,000 in New York City can make ends meet, it's asking the impossible," Duggan said.

But she said less than half of New York City families who used emergency food programs took advantage of the School Breakfast Program, while less than two-thirds used the lunch program.

Breakfast should be made available during school hours, because many families cannot get their children to school earlier to use the program, Duggan said.

The Food Bank for New York City said one of the key ways of addressing the problems of hungry, yet obese and overweight, children in New York was to streamline access to these healthy programs, food stamps and other government nutrition plans.

"Children who go to school hungry often cannot reach their full potential," the Food Bank said in a statement.

"As adults they have difficulty finding jobs. The jobs they do find pay poorly, which prevents them from making ends meet for their own families. And without enough money the cycle will continue to repeat."

Food Bank for New York City said it is the city's primary supplier of food for the hungry and helps provide food for more than 250,000 free meals served each day by more then 1,200 non-profit community food programs.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited

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