Home Healthy Living Healthy Diet Let’s do more than bemoan the childhood obesity rate. Let’s reverse it.

Let’s do more than bemoan the childhood obesity rate. Let’s reverse it.

Let’s do more than bemoan the childhood obesity rate. Let’s reverse it.

Suzan Erem, Iowa View contributor
Published 10:58 a.m. CT Nov. 1, 2018

Iowa ranks 10th nationally in childhood obesity, a truth that will lead to expensive and tragic public health issues for decades to come.

According to the Oct. 26 article published in the Des Moines Register, “A healthy diet encourages eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat and fat-free dairy products.”

Yet for the last 70 years, Iowa has hitched itself to an agriculture based almost entirely on food products that are noticeably not on this list: feed to fatten livestock and food such as corn syrup. There are many valid reasons – policy-based and university-based – why our farmers chose to specialize in corn, soybeans and hogs. Those farmers made choices from the choices they had.

Meanwhile, a study by Canadian researchers published in late October concluded growers are not producing enough fruits and vegetables to feed the global population a healthy diet. That study notes agricultural production is out of balance with nutritional wisdom by overproducing grains, fats and sugars while growing three times less fruits and vegetables than needed. 

But a new generation of farmers, including a growing number here in Iowa, is demanding new choices. They want to raise fruits, vegetables and lean, grass-fed livestock. They want to maximize the power of ecological diversity for soil health, not rely on costly synthetic chemicals. For their success, they want to rely on their reputation with their customers, not the whim of federal trade policy. And they see a growing demand for organic foods. It’s no longer a blip, it’s a trend. Local food sales are enjoying a similar steady climb. 

Now imagine such farms surrounding and feeding our communities. Linn County could be the first in the state to make this happen with its Dows Farm agri-community in the works right now. It’s a triple-win – a farmer on permanently protected farmland next to a diverse mix of customers in a community built by developers who will enjoy the high premiums and quick sales agri-communities nationwide have generated. 

Our final and most critical obstacle to such farms is the cost of land. The 10- to 50-acre lots these farmers need closest to their markets – Des Moines, Iowa City, Ames – are always at a premium. If fresh fruits and vegetables are the key to cutting our obesity rate, and these farms grow such crops, let’s provide these farmers an even playing field. Instead of competing against housing and production farming pressures, let them just compete against one another. When we dedicate some land solely to sustainable food production, we give these farmers a fair shot at a future. We begin to tackle our obesity epidemic and increase our economic security. We take a giant step forward toward cleaner water and healthier soils and we get rid of this false choice of “agriculture or clean water.” We can have both. 

Once this election is over, we will still be here tackling the issues that matter to us every day: What future will we leave our children? How do we keep our community healthy? Who can we count on when the world lets us down? Let’s get back to counting on each other. Let’s give this next generation a chance to grow food in a way that heals our bodies, our soils, our waters and our communities.  Let’s do more than just bemoan the childhood obesity rate – let’s reverse it.

Suzan Erem is executive director of the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust. 

 

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