Can Nutrition Education Fight Off Obesity?

Throughout the year, you will find commemorations of various health issues, from heart health to diabetes, from obesity to general nutrition. While all have important messages that are designed to remind consumers of the importance and impact of good health, we should be asking why we are limiting these important messages to just one day, week, or month. Good nutrition and a healthy, active lifestyle should be top-of-mind year-round.

Of course, good nutrition is not always easy to access, especially if you live in one of the many low-income communities across the U.S.

How Access to Nutritious Food Affects Obesity Rates

Many studies have shown the link between food insecurity and obesity. According to the Food Research & Action Center, food insecure and low-income people can be especially vulnerable to becoming overweight and obese, due to the additional risk factors associated with inadequate resources.

A study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity also found that low-income neighborhoods are plagued by a “food swamp” – an overabundance of unhealthy choices, such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. These communities are also known as food deserts, where they also lack healthy food options, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

It is important to note that food deserts and food swamps are just one element of food security, an issue that this isn’t solely for lower-income or developing nations; it is happening and affecting the United States and developed countries too and in similar ways.

For this reason, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG #2) for ending hunger and achieving food security is universal for all nations, adaptable to different contexts, and has been adopted by more than 200 nations.

Food security is more than simply having access to food. The definition has evolved over the last few decades, and the most current definition of food security includes “access to nutritious food.”

The food security problem is made worse by the lack of options in the poorest areas and for people without means to shop for food or cook on their own, such as the elderly. Moving to a different region or community is not an option for most people, and waiting for resources to come to the community is not always a practical solution.

There is no doubt that processed foods can and do contribute to nutrition. Both fresh and processed foods make up the fabric of the food system. When looking at delivering nutrient-dense foods to the most remote food deserts in the world, there is no way currently, for fresh food to compete on delivering safe and nutrient-dense food in a cost-effective way, compared to processed food.

Ending the Hunger for Nutrition

So, what is the answer? Should we talk about ending hunger for nutrition and not just ending hunger for calories? How often do we talk about hunger and obesity in the same breath?

We believe access to good nutrition is critical to solving these challenges, which is why we launched our Nutrition for Zero Hunger initiative.

Our goal is to increase access to healthy foods and nutrition education for vulnerable populations around the world, by increasing awareness, donating nutrient-dense products, and working with our global partners such as Feed the Children and World Food Program USA.

The Role of Nutrition Education and Supportive Communities

At the micro-level, health education and finding a community of like-minded individuals can help change people’s outlook on their health decisions and behavior, helping one to shift to healthier food and beverage choices and increase physical activity.

Let me be clear: education and a supportive community do not solve the problem of food security or the fundamental lack of investment in underserved communities to bring nutritious food to those communities. However, they do help people make healthier choices, for example, when choosing between the processed foods available to them.

Another example of education is learning to understand the FDA’s Nutrition Facts label, available on all packaged food sold in the United States. Understanding the nutritional information available on food labels and restaurant menus can empower you to make smarter eating decisions, choosing from a variety of foods and beverages that are higher in nutrient density throughout the day.

Educating People to Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods

The concept of nutrient density, which is a measure of how much nutrition you get per calorie eaten, is important to a healthy diet. Remember, when choosing between two food items with the same calorie amount, one food choice can provide your body with the protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals we need every day, while another choice may provide empty calories from sugar and fat with no significant nutrients.
For example, if you are looking for a quick snack, reach for a fruit or vegetable, or a high-quality protein, such as a protein bar or protein shake to help you feel fuller.

Even in food deserts and swamps, healthy eating can be achieved by making informed decisions that can only come through education. This behavior change helps our communities fight obesity.

We also need to remember that health is holistic in nature, and balanced nutrition is only part of the equation for a healthy and happy life. A consistent exercise regimen is essential to a successful plan to get healthy.

By surrounding yourself with a supportive community of like-minded people, in other words, others who want to live a healthy active lifestyle, one can significantly increase the odds of reaching their goals.

In fact, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who regularly walk in groups have lower blood pressure, resting heart rate, and total cholesterol. The exercise also leads to a reduction in body fat and Body Mass Index (BMI). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees.

Our independent distributors play these roles in their local communities, motivating others and encouraging regular physical activity. As coaches to their customers, they help others make healthier choices and stay on a path to better wellness, using tools, training, and materials developed by our experts in nutrition, health, and fitness.

Through nutrition education and support, we can continue to address the problem of obesity in our communities, one customer at a time.

John Agwunobi, M.D., MBA, MPH – Co-President and Chief Health & Nutrition Officer

John AgwunobiM.D., MBA, MPH – Co-President and Chief Health & Nutrition Officer

Dr. Agwunobi holds an MPH from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Georgetown University. He completed his pediatric residency at Howard University and is currently a licensed physician in Florida and Maryland. In previous roles, he served as senior vice president and president of health and wellness for Walmart, as well as Assistant Secretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.