With all the grocery stores and markets, restaurants and food delivery services and the escalating obesity rate in the United States, it can be difficult to imagine that many Americans are not getting the essential fruits, vegetables, fiber and hydration that their bodies need, every day. But it is not a matter of the availability of food, but rather the quality of food we are provided with, that best aligns with our busy lifestyle.
After increasing education (starting in elementary schools) and resources to encourage healthy eating, America has seen an increase in both obesity rates, and chronic diseases that are attributed to poor nutrition. It is important to understand the obstacles to healthy eating, and inspire others to make planned, balanced meals a priority, for better health. Nutrition has also been linked with mental health.
Food Deserts and Other Factors That Impact Nutritional Deficiency
Processed convenience foods and fast-food are two culprits that are ingrained in the North American diet. Our busy schedules and commitments leave less and less time for the traditional family dinner; one that is prepared at home, with a balanced plate in mind. And it is not only lack of time that is contributing to poor nutrition for families. Access to grocery stores and affordable fresh foods can be scarce in certain regions, particularly for families who many not have private transportation. When lower income families experience a problem accessing affordable grocery stores, they are located in a ‘food desert”.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 2.2% of all American households live one or more miles away from a supermarket, and do not own a vehicle. The impact of food deserts means that families are challenged when it comes to finding affordable healthy food options (fruits and vegetables). Another unfortunate trend, is that middle to upper class neighborhoods have up to three times the number of grocery stores than lower income neighborhoods, while families living in food desert regions have more than twice the number of fast food restaurants, and convenience stores, with processed foods. The problem is so significant and impacting on the health of American families, that the USDA Economic Research Service provides an updated maps of known food deserts across America.
A Growing Malnutrition Epidemic
Former first lady, Michelle Obama, and Barbara Bush (daughter of former President George Bush) champion programs that provide education and resources to address child and adult malnutrition in America. Did you know that approximately 85% of Americans do not consume the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals that are essential for physical and cognitive development, and long-term wellness?
According to Global Health Corps, an international charity that works to improve health and nutrition, more than 50% of American children do not receive enough Vitamin D and E, with other deficiencies in important minerals like calcium, magnesium and Vitamin A. The problem is not limited exclusively to developing countries, as lifestyle and diet trends and shifting socioeconomic habits are leading to a growing problem with balanced nutrition in America. The organization estimates that cumulative vitamin deficiencies and lack of Omega 3 fatty acids cost billions in preventable healthcare cases in the United States alone.
Retraining Healthy Dietary Habits
Adopting a slower, less hectic pace of living isn’t a likelihood for Americans, so how can the average person make nutrition a priority in their household? Creating a weekly meal plan is an excellent way to get started. Print off a schedule of meals for the week, and evaluate opportunities to cook more meals at home from scratch, rather than relying on take-out or convenience, processed foods. Not only will this help you create more nutritionally balanced meals, but it can also save you time and money; cooking at home instead of eating at a restaurant or take-out, can save families thousands of dollars a year.
Ensure that you consult with your physician about daily multivitamins and supplements for adults and/or children in your home, and train healthy habits and an awareness of the importance of nutritional supplementation. Explain to children that vitamins are not a substitute for a healthy diet, and why they are an important, daily exercise that supports health, and improved immunity. Get creative about eating healthy! Find recipe ideas and step-by-step instructions on YouTube. Allow other family members to participate both in meal planning, and preparation, to help make it a fun, healthy new habit in your home.