By J. Scott Angle and Linda Kirk Fox
University of Georgia
Data released this week shows Georgia’s obesity rate is improving, but 28 percent of the state's citizens still weigh in as obese. Growing health problems and rising healthcare costs are straining both the physical and economic wellbeing of America.
Good health often begins with good nutrition, and good nutrition begins when you put a seed in the soil.
Improving our food system by investing in research to enhance nutrition, increase yield and evenly distribute fresh food would go a long way toward solving long-term, underlying health issues in America. Finding a more holistic cure to troubling health trends through prevention and nutrition is more economically and physically sustainable than slapping a Band-Aid on the problem, offering only short-term treatment of the symptoms.
Americans face two glaring related problems: obesity and inadequate healthcare. Both are especially prevalent in the South. While obesity cuts across all socioeconomic sectors, poverty in the South is likely a major factor. Many low-income areas are food deserts, large areas with limited access to healthy food.
If you don’t have the means to get to a market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables or the space to grow them yourself, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a healthy diet. If the only store you can walk to is long on supplies of snack foods, soda and sandwich meat, but short on whole grains, vegetables or lean cuts of meat, then your options are limited.
Education is a key component to solving this health crisis. Whether educating more healthcare workers in Georgia or delivering hands-on Extension health and nutrition education to local citizens, knowledge is power in the fight for a healthy life.
In a recent speech to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Microsoft founder Bill Gates made a stark statement that struck at the heart of the problem. He said: “The rising share of both state and federal budgets committed to healthcare, broadly defined, leaves very little room for flexibility (to fund education). The mathematics are quite brutal.”
While soaring healthcare costs are draining the funding pool, education is often an efficient path to avoiding expensive healthcare problems. Increasing investment in a system that addresses resulting health problems in our society without addressing the root cause of many of these problems – poor diet and lack of access to fresh food – is like building an expensive house on sandy soil.
Properly investing available funds in education and improved food systems can put Americans on solid footing and headed down a new road to better health.
(J. Scott Angle is dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Linda Kirk Fox is dean of the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)