Unemployment, bad eating habits and COVID-19

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Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay 
By Glenn Townes

The phrase couch potato has enjoyed a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic as hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees spend their days and nights eating, sleeping, watching television and gaining weight—a lot of it, according to data and officials from the Center for Obesity Research at Seattle University in Washington. The state was among the first in the country to report an outbreak of the coronavirus.

With the number of out of work Americans perched to top more than 30 million in the coming weeks—per recent predictions from the Labor Department—newly out of work people are seeking solace in devouring unhealthy food, coupled with inertia and being home bound. African Americans and people of color often tend to be hit the hardest economically and socially during periods of uncertainty. Add to the mix an already strained budget for everyday expenses, the need for a high calorie, high fat and cholesterol saturated burger and fries for less than a few bucks becomes an attractive lure. For example, foods with fewer calories, carbohydrates and deemed healthier are often more expensive.

According to a random survey, a 24-ounce package of prepared garden salad costs between $4.50 to $6 at some metro area high end supermarkets. A vegan menu including a veggie burger or veggie tuna salad costs as much as $10. However, a hamburger, french fries and a soft drink can be purchased for as little as $2.50 at some fast-food restaurants.

“Lower income groups in this country consume cheap and nutrient poor diets,” said Adam Drewnowski, a researcher at the Center for Obesity Research. Drewnowski added that during times of crisis like COVID-19, people are more concerned about getting higher “calories per dollar” instead of “nutrients per dollar.” For example, crops like rice, soy, corn and sugar feed calories, but don't provide nutrients. “Obesity is mostly due to cheap, empty calories with minimum nutritional value.”

In April, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) launched an effort to combat unhealthy lifestyles and promote healthy dieting during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund will brings fresh produce to urban and other hard hit communities.


According to press release, PHA will deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to help families
integrate nourishing and salubrious foods into their daily diets. The organization was founded by former First Lady Michelle Obama. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is vice chairman.

“The backdrop of COVID-19 highlights the importance of eradicating the risk associated with diet-related disease more than ever,” said Nancy Roman, President and CEO of PHA. “We have laid the groundwork for water to become the most purchased beverage in the country, and enhanced the access of healthier food for 11 million low income Americans through our partnerships with food banks across the country.”

To find out more about the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund in New Jersey, visit the organization's web site http://www.ahealthieramerica.org.

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