In the final session of the workshop, several speakers representing government agencies and one official from a private foundation summarized the key messages and suggested actions from the previous 2.5 days. The moderator, Patricia B. Crawford, director of the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkley, encouraged panelists to reflect on the workshop content and discuss next steps to help increase our understanding of the relationship between food insecurity and obesity. Although much progress has been made in recent years, much more remains to be done, the panelists said. The potential for research and practice to improve the lives of people who struggle with food insecurity and obesity demands redoubled efforts.
Is there value in continuing to examine the relationship between food insecurity and obesity? “I’m going to say a resounding yes and give you two reasons why that’s the case,” said Carol Olander, director of Family Programs Staff in the Office of Research and Analysis at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which sponsored the workshop.
First, a vocal contingent of policy makers and a significant segment of the public cannot fathom how it is possible for people to be both poor and obese. This group asks, if the poor or food insecure are overweight or obese, why do they need additional food or nutrition assistance? “That’s the world I live in,” said Olander.
To provide a persuasive and compelling answer to this question, a large body of complicated information needs to be distilled into a succinct message. “I originally thought about having this workshop with the idea that perhaps we would be able to walk out of the room, not necessarily with sound bites, but at least with the armament to move in that direction. That’s not quite the case.” Yet the lack of a succinct message at present demonstrates not only why additional research is needed, said Olander, but also some of the directions in which that research must go.
The second reason she cited for looking at the relationship between food insecurity and obesity is that the government has an obligation to demonstrate that it is a good steward of tax dollars. This calls for either a succinct message about the relationship or research aimed at providing that message.
Finally, the mission of FNS has evolved from a focus just on hunger to the broader issues of healthful diets and making good food choices. For