For me personally, I'm now 18 months as a Lifetime Member in good standing, having lost 32 pounds vs. when I first joined Weight Watchers back in February of 2000 (as noted in earlier posts, I had a few up's and down's on my way to Lifetime). I feel good about my loss, and I feel better about how I've maintained it. I have truly changed my life for the better, and I am very much a changed man. That said, I recognize that I too am fortunate to have so many resources to help me stay on track: access to a great gym, my bike (whom I adore), a sweet new Whole Foods, healthy restaurants in the city, etc. In my case, a healthy life has been very possible because of what is available in the environment surrounding me.
All of this brings me to Part 2 of this series. What about the other end of the income distribution curve? What about the impoverished areas of our country?
This all came into focus for me again this summer when I volunteered at City Harvest http://www.cityharvest.org/ , a fabulous organization in New York City. City Harvest operates a fleet of 17 refrigerated trucks and 3 bikes that collect food from those who can give and immediately donates it to those who need. City Harvest specializes in fresh produce collections and donations. I had the opportunity to volunteer at one of their innovative Mobile Markets, this one in the Bronx in the midst of a large section of low income housing projects. The morning I volunteered, City Harvest gave out about 19,000 pounds of produce to roughly 500 people, enough to last them for two weeks. It was an inspiring display by an excellent organization.
Yet, I was shocked and saddened by the fact that this neighborhood even needed a Mobile Market. The fact is that we literally could not find a single piece of fresh produce in a single store in a ten block radius. Even those who were able to afford produce had to take a bus to buy it.
This sad state happens all over the country in which low income neighborhoods literally do not have access to healthy foods. Obesity experts have come to call them "food deserts". To be clear, you can buy food in a food desert, but only if you use a loose definition for the word "food". The only food that is available in these neighborhoods is the processed, sugary, added-fat kind. There are calories to be had in food deserts, but they are almost exclusively empty calories. Adding insult to injury, the US (and other countries) has become a place where processed food has gotten cheaper, while unprocessed food has gotten more expensive. Therefore, it's easier to fill a hungry stomach on junk than it is with real food.
Hence this sequence of events has led to the phenomena where those without resources are forced to spend their food allowance on energy dense, caloric foods with little to no nutritional value. In the process, obesity has thrust itself into places where people have few options and alternatives. Obesity and poverty have become two sides of the same coin. Diabetes and other conditions are on the rise. No where is this more evidence than with kids. Frankly, it is a deplorable and heart breaking situation.
What can be done?
Fortunately, there are organizations, like City Harvest, who are laser focused on finding ways of getting nutritious foods into impoverished populations. For the past two years, Weight Watchers has proudly supported two such organizations dedicated to this noble fight:
- Share Our Strength http://www.strength.org/ : 17 million children in the US faced hunger at some point last year. Share Our Strength (SOS) has the simple, but beautifully elegant goal to end childhood hunger in this country. Period. Founded by brother and sister Billy and Debbie Shore in 1984, their wonderful organization has already raised $200 million since their inception which they have given to over 1,000 organizations. They fundamentally believe that solving childhood hunger with nutritious food and education is the only way.
- Action Against Hunger ACF-USA http://www.actionagainsthunger.org/ : Action Against Hunger (ACF) has the audacious goal of eliminating global hunger, and it specializes in emergency situations of conflict, natural disaster, and chronic food insecurity. Fully one billion people in the world are now going hungry. In no place is this more heart breaking and damaging for our collective global future than childhood malnutrition. ACF has been a leader on the ground in some of the hardest hit countries such as Western Chad, Pakistan, and Niger. This organization has already had a tremendous impact on childhood nutrition and in reducing malnourishment through programs such as Plumpy'nut. This amazing peanut-based meal replacement bar has been demonstrated to save children's lives from starvation within a mere month.
Enter Lose for Good
For the third straight year, Weight Watchers, its meetings members and Online subscribers are doing their part too. For a seven-week period beginning today, we will be donating money for each pound lost by our members, up to a $1 million donation to be shared between Share Our Strength and Action Against Hunger
ACF-USA. While we are doing this, we are encouraging our members to make food donations equivalent to the weight they lose during this time to their local food banks. These food drives are being organized by local Weight Watchers volunteers throughout the country. Last year, our members donated over 2 million pounds of food across the US.
The beauty in these food drives is that they allow each of us to see our weight loss in the form of food. 10 pounds of weight loss may not seem like much until we carry it in a bag, and walk around with it for a while. It's an excellent visualization tool. The fact that we can them give that nutrition to someone who needs it is all the more beautiful. Lose for Good was a simple, beautiful concept invented by a Weight Watchers Leader in the Seattle area (Deb Hugo -- who rocks BTW) several years ago. It's motivating for the member in all the right ways: help your health while you help a neighbor in need.
For interest, this year I had a new shopping strategy: wholesome food for five families. The per family food donation worked out to:
- 17 servings of oatmeal
- PB&J for 17 servings
- 15 servings of rice
- 7 servings of whole grain pasta with marinara sauce
It seems like the proverbial drop in the bucket, but I'm only one of millions. If millions did it (and I hope they will!), that's a whole lot of drops of water. Which means we're going to need a much bigger bucket.
Please do join me for the next six weeks in making a difference for ourselves and others!