The link between obesity and hunger

    The “Witnesses to Hunger” traveling photo exhibit is back in Philadelphia to mark Public Health Week. WHYY has this story of one woman who documented what it’s like to raise children in poverty.

    Hunger may not look like what you think, especially in the United States. Ask 31-year-old Tianna Gaines.

    The Associated Press video of the Witnesses to Hunger exhibitThe Witnesses to Hunger siteThe Witnesses to Hunger exhibitFox Art Gallery at the UPenn Wednesday, April 7 to Sunday, May 2 Philly Eats Fresh: Healthy Eating and Food Access Health FairReading Terminal Market, Center Court 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, April 8th

    Gaines: I’m overweight. I’m only 5’4” and I weigh 243 pounds.

    Nutrition experts say Gaines should be counted among the hungry. Those who study hunger want to expand its definition to include anyone who can’t afford foods that help maintain a healthy weight. That includes obese and overweight people such as Gaines.

    Gaines: Who wants to be fat, no one wants to be fat. That’s not what most of us choose to be. I want to be able to run behind my kids without getting out of breath.

    These days Gaines lives in a government-subsidized home in Northeast Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood, but she’s been homeless twice in the last five years.

    Gaines: "There have been times where me and my fiancé were in a situation where we didn't have enough money to eat for all of us, so we had to choose to let my kids eat, basically we would just eat whatever they had left over at times, or sometimes not eat at all."Gaines: There have been times where me and my fiancé were in a situation where we didn’t have enough money to eat for all of us, so we had to choose to let my kids eat, basically we would just eat whatever they had left over at times, or sometimes not eat at all.

    Gaines travels to a grocery store outside her neighborhood to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for her three children. But once they’ve been well fed, sometimes she turns to cheap foods like Oodles of Noodles and white bread to fill her own stomach.

    Mariana Chilton is a nutrition expert at the Drexel School of Public Health. She says lots of women — who rely on vouchers and have limited access to nutritious foods — are forced into the same choices.

    Chilton: When she comes back into some money at the beginning of the month or when the food stamps kick back in. She may likely eat more than her normal share because she remembers that experience of deprivation.

    Gaines admits she should be exercising more, but Chilton says it’s also possible to starve yourself fat. Chilton says hunger and obesity are two sides of malnutrition.

    Chilton: That kind of yo-yo diet experience can really do a number on the metabolism, it can screw up the metabolism in the body, so that can actually cause a woman to gain more weight than one would normally expect.

    The Witnesses to Hunger exhibit was on display in Washington D.C. in 2009. (Photo courtesy of the Witnesses to Hunger project)The city is trying to get more produce into corner stores, and The Food Trust is launching a healthy bucks program that could give bonuses to shoppers who use food stamps at farmers markets. And this week there’s a fresh foods fair at The Reading Terminal Market.

    But Mariana Chilton says Philadelphia will have to do more.

    Chilton: Many people think that hunger can be solved with food alone. Hunger is solved by addressing poverty itself and all of the kinds of things that families have to do in order to make trade offs.

    Chilton says her research shows that to ease hunger, low-income people also need more help with heating bills and housing.

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