Industrial-scale farming and food processing are greater factors in rising obesity numbers in Connecticut and worldwide than individual behavior, scientists say. This complex food system feeds directly into greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated climate change. Last year the journal The Lancet identified a global “syndemic” linking climate change to obesity and poor nutrition, referencing dozens of studies. Earlier, in 2017, the journal Public Health reported “significant and new insight about the causal link between obesity and environmental emissions.”
In Connecticut, 27% of all adults, almost 12% of children and 14% of toddlers (ages 2-4) have obesity. In 1990, the rate for adults was 10%, reports Connecticut Data Haven in its 2019 Community Health Well-Being Survey.
In cities throughout Connecticut, urban farms and community gardens are sprouting up to address a significant health challenge: Many people don’t have access to enough food or access to healthy food. About 13% of Connecticut residents said they did not have enough money to pay for food at least once in the previous year, according to the most recent Community Wellbeing Survey conducted by DataHaven in 2018. Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to struggle, with 23% and 28%, respectively, reporting food insecurity. In several cities, about a quarter of all residents struggle to pay for food. Urban residents are also less likely to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the survey.
When immigrant families bring their children to the Yale Children’s Hispanic Clinic, it’s just not about check-ups and vaccinations. Clinicians help them deal with everything from teething to nutrition to finding a place to live. But these days when front-line clinicians encourage families to use the many services offered through federal public programs, parents have questions—and misgivings. “They are hesitant because they are afraid,” said Patricia Nogelo, a clinical social worker at the Yale Children’s Hispanic Clinic. A proposed change in immigration law is making immigrants in Connecticut and nationally wary of utilizing federal programs that cover health, food and housing assistance.
Thousands of Connecticut children could potentially avert hunger and gain access to healthy foods under proposed legislation to raise a federal nutrition program’s age limit. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is co-sponsoring legislation that aims to change the age limit for children enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) from 5 to 6. She recently introduced a bill with U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez of California. The bill – called the Wise Investment in our Children Act, or WIC Act – would help eliminate a prevalent “nutrition gap” among 5-year-olds in the United States, said DeLauro. WIC provides nutrition services for low-income children up until their fifth birthday when, according to DeLauro, it is assumed they will enter kindergarten and become eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals.