Monday, April 11, 2011


Connection between hunger and obesity is not as far-fetched as it sounds

An Eagle Scout created an inner city garden for poverty stricken inner city children to grow and eat fresh vegetables. But the health department halted the well-intentioned effort due to regulations requiring the food to be inspected.

Supermarkets moved out of the inner city to the suburbs, but public transportation never adjusted, leaving urban families without a way to access fresh food, only fast food.

As childhood obesity continued to increase, nutritional education decreased in schools.

These are all true scenarios in Connecticut, issues that Food Policy Councils like the one recently established in New London County can tackle. Coupled with programs like the Backus Weight Loss Center and continued collaboration with other organizations, are positioning ourselves well to handle the number one health threat in eastern Connecticut – obesity.

United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, Backus Hospital, Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, Thames Valley Council for Community Action, FRESH New London and others are among those partnering on the newly formed New London County Food Policy Council, which is attempting to systematically fix food issues in region.

Interestingly, this obesity problem is connected to hunger. While at first glance this seems like an unlikely pairing, further reflection enables us to comprehend why this is not so far-fetched.

The exodus of food markets from urban areas to the suburbs is one of the ways that hunger and obesity connect. As the stores with fresh fruits and vegetables moved, they were replaced by fast food establishments, leaving those without transportation with too many super-sized, unhealthy options.

Couple this with increasing reliance on food pantries – the local Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center reports distribution of 2,000 pounds of donated food in the past year – and not all of it was healthy.

What can we do to help? An easy first step is when you donate food, don’t just just dust off the old box of macaroni and cheese hiding in the corner of your cupboard. Think about healthier food options, such as canned vegetables.

Our nursing staff will be taking a step in this direction when they conduct a food drive in the Backus cafeteria beginning May 2-6. The food drive, done in conjunction with National Nurses Week, will focus on collecting healthy products. They contacted the food center and obtained a list of healthier food that you can donate, which includes canned tuna, canned vegetables, fruits, rice, instant potatoes, pasta, healthy cereal like oatmeal, peanut butter and baby food.

Please consider donating to this important cause. It’s one of the small but important steps we can take towards better health in our community.

Mark Tousignant, MD, is a minimally invasive general surgeon with Backus Physician Services and Medical Director of the Backus Weight Loss Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Tousignant or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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