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Healthy and Active Children

Childhood obesity is one of Texas’ fastest growing health challenges. While this crisis is impacting each and every segment of our society, children in our poorest communities and minority populations are affected the most. Faced with limited opportunities to obtain healthy foods and limited access to safe natural open areas to play, many of our communities are confronted with increasing obstacles and spiraling disease rates.

Ironically, obesity and hunger can exist side-by-side in some communities. In households that experience “food insecurity,” or where the chances of obtaining safe and nutritious food are limited or uncertain, hunger may be a very real issue. The same household may experience a lack of access to nutritious foods, choosing inexpensive, high calorie food items because they may be more readily available or cheaper. This intake of unhealthy foods puts individuals at risk for overweight, obesity, and associated health risks. The factors that contribute to food choice, food access, overweight, and obesity are complex. For communities with no supermarket chains or farmer’s markets in close proximity, individuals will purchase their groceries at local convenience stores or other markets that are not set up to carry fresh produce. These “food deserts,” or areas that lack access to nutritious foods, may play a major role in the occurrence of overweight and obesity.

Obesity rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents the past 20 years. 70% of overweight children become overweight/obese adults. Texas is 20th among states for overweight children in the Nation. One third of children (10-17) in Texas are overweight or obese. 42% of fourth graders in Texas are or are at risk of being overweight. The Texas Department of State Health Services projects that by 2040, annual overweight- and obesity-related costs could be as high as $39 billion. The Comptroller of Public Accounts estimates that obesity cost Texas businesses $3.3 billion in 2005, and could cost employers $15.8 billion annually by 2025 if the trend continues.

For these and other Texas's obesity statistics, see Center for Public Policiy Priority's Hunger and Children Nutrition Issue Brief and Feeding America's Implication of Food Insecurity for Children.


Hunger in Texas and the US

Food insecurity is defined as “families who are unable to consistently access adequate amounts of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.”1 Hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food.”2 Approximately 35.5 million Americans are food insecure.3 Texas has 1.3 million food insecure households (more than 3 million people) which is the third highest in the Nation.4 Texas has the seventh-highest rate of hunger at 5.1% of households in the United States.5

12 million children under age 18 are food insecure in the United States.6 3.5 million children under age 5 are food insecure in the United States.7 Approximately 22% of Texas children under age 18 are food insecure which is the highest in the Nation.8 23.3% of children under 5 in Texas are food insecure.9 Children who are food insecure are 30% more likely to be hospitalized.10 Some of the possible effects of hunger and food insecurity in children are irreversible brain damage in young children, inattention and lack of concentration, absenteeism, grade repetition, an increased risk of suicide, and a higher chance for development of lifelong disease.11

Hunger is closely linked to poverty. More than 13 percent of Americans and 18 percent of American children live in poverty. Rates are higher in Texas, with almost 16 percent of Texans and 22.5 percent of Texas children living in poverty in 2008.12

Federal poverty guidelines are determined by tripling the cost of food per family size. Eligibility for many federal programs is determined by using these guidelines. For 2009, 130 percent above the poverty level for a family of four was $28,665 and 185 percent above the poverty level was $40,793.13 A full-time minimum wage worker earns $15,080 annually.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, provides food assistance to millions of Americans. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the idea for the program was born in the late 1930s, with a limited program in effect from 1939 to 1943. It was revived as a pilot program in 1961 and was extended nationwide in 1974. The current program structure was implemented in 1977 with a goal of alleviating hunger and malnutrition by permitting low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade.14

As of October 1, 2008, SNAP is the new name for the federal Food Stamp Program. The name change was mandated by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.

Children receiving SNAP benefits are 26% less likely to be food insecure than children who are eligible but are not enrolled.15 USDA estimates that every $1 spent on SNAP benefits generates $1.84 to the economy.16 USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that for each $1billion of food stamp retail food purchases there are generated an estimated $340 million in farm production, $110 million in farm-value added, and 3,300 farm jobs.

About 67 percent of those eligible participate in the SNAP nationally.17 63 percent of those eligible in Texas participate in SNAP.18 An estimated 2,532,047 Texans participated in SNAP in fiscal year 2008.19 Food insecurity and hunger cost the United States more than $9 billion a year. (This figure was determined by calculating the annual cost for charity, illness, and lowered productivity.)20 In 2007 FRAC estimates that Harris County had $203 million of unclaimed SNAP benefits and Bexar County $47.1 million of unclaimed SNAP benefits.21


  1) http://www.agr.state.tx.us/agr/media/media_render/0,1460,1848_17053_3105...
  2) http://www.frac.org/html/hunger_in_the_us/hunger_index.html
  3) http://feedingamerica.org/newsroom/hunger-fact-sheet.aspx
  4) http://www.cppp.org/fbe/hunger.pdf and http://feedingamerica.org/newsroom/press-release-archive/child-food-inse...
  5) http://www.cppp.org/fbe/hunger.pdf
  6) http://feedingamerica.org/our-network/the-studies/child-food-insecurity....
  7) http://feedingamerica.org/our-network/the-studies/child-food-insecurity....
  8) http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id...
  9) http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id...
  10) http://feedingamerica.org/faces-of-hunger/hunger-101/child-hunger-implic...
  11) http://feedingamerica.org/newsroom/press-release-archive/child-food-inse... http://feedingamerica.org/faces-of-hunger/hunger-101/child-hunger-implic...
  12) http://www.statehealthfacts.org/profileind.jsp?ind=16&cat=1&rgn=45
  13) http://www.fns.usda.gov/cga/factsheets/sbp_quick_facts.pdf
  14) http://www.frac.org/html/federal_food_programs/programs/fsp.html
  15) http://www.cppp.org/factbook08/tkc_2008.pdf
  16) http://www.cppp.org/files/3/SNAP%20stimulus%20release%20final.pdf
  17) www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/SNAP/FILES/Participation/techpartrat...
  18) www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/SNAP/FILES/Participation/techpartrat...
  19) http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/15SNAPpartPP.htm
 20) http://www.sodexofoundation.org/hunger_us/Images/Cost%20of%20Domestic%20...
  21) http://www.cppp.org/files/3/SNAP%20stimulus%20release%20final.pdf