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If You're Poor in America, You Can Be Both Overweight and Hungry

Cycles of poverty make families vulnerable to food insecurity.

The U.S. is notorious for its weight problem. With just 5% of the world’s population, it’s home to 13% of the world’s overweight and obese people. Roughly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese and, even more alarming, 38% of boys and girls ages 10 to 14 are.

On first glance, these numbers seem to reflect overabundance — Americans have more food than is good for them. But the problem is more complicated than that, and worse: Many of the same people who struggle with extra weight also regularly go to bed hungry. That may sound like an impossible contradiction, but dig deeper, and it quickly becomes clear how hunger and obesity are related. Both are often rooted in poverty.

Nearly 12% of American households are, by Agriculture Department standards, “food insecure” — meaning they have difficulty buying enough safe and nutritious food to meet their household needs. That amounts to roughly 40 million people, including some 540,000 children who experience very low food security. Food insecurity tends to be highest among Hispanic and black non-Hispanic families, and of course among unemployed and poor households.

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