Nutrition: Henstenburg explains hunger and food insecurity

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Dr. Jule Anne Henstenburg has been Director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition at La Salle since the start of the Program in 1999 and was Founding Director of La Salle’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics in 2003. Her research interests focus on the use of qualitative methods for the study of food access in low income, urban neighborhoods.

A food desert, which is what Germantown was before Fresh Grocer and Bottom Dollar Foods opened, is an area where fresh healthy food is not readily available.

Henstenburg explained how nutritionists are more and more in school systems and supermarkets in various areas, helping people in the community make healthier food choices.

“People who eat more fruit and vegetables are much healthier,” said Henstenburg.

“The first step is to give communities access to better foods. There is a big push to build supermarkets in food desert areas. The area around La Salle was previously considered a food desert. Now they have better access.”

The issue is centered food security and hunger.

What is food security?
“The definition involves people having physical and economic status to food… whether or not you can bring enough food into the house to feed your family comfortably and in a culturally appropriate way,” said Henstenburg.

Thus, food insecurity is when people do not have economic or physical access to food; people cannot meet their daily food needs.

This leads to culturally inappropriate ways to get food, such as “dumpster diving” for left over food or stealing. Hunger goes together with food insecurity; hunger is a physiologic issue, the feeling of painful sensations from lack of food.

“In my personal opinion as a nutritionist, this is a big problem,” said Henstenburg.

“We are not doing enough for people, they don’t know how to eat; the fact of the matter is, there are some people who are interested no doubt, but it’s one person at a time learning this stuff. It takes a lot of energy to eat right.”

It’s not that our government does not try. As a result of the Great Depression, the FOOD STAMPS Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) started in the 1930s. The Farm Bill is also a massive piece of legislation that deals with farming in the United States. However, the problem is in the amount of benefits people receive through the SNAP program.

The average SNAP benefit for people in the United States (4 person family) gets $32/month (dropped since November 2013).
“It’s enough to buy milk and bread for the month. It gets us into why it’s hard to buy fruits and vegetables. It’s a matter of asking, how can we best spend these food dollars?”

Lack of access is the primary cause, but a solution that has come up frequently is that people need to make more money or there needs to be cheaper healthy produce. If the minimum wage is raised to ten dollars, it will give people the ability to afford healthy food, health care, and proper living.

Another solution is to support local farmers. Henstenburg said that Farmer’s Markets are very popular in finding good quality, fresh produce.

“It’s a small step that can take us really far,” said Henstenburg.

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Goldbacher helps fight the nutrition battle in Germantown

Dr. Goldbacher presents on weight loss.
Dr. Goldbacher presents on weight loss.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, many people argue over the real causes of obesity. La Salle University’s Community Psychological Services is striving to help people in the Germantown community get on the right track towards healthy, nutritious living.

Dr. Edie Goldbacher, a professor of psychology at La Salle University, is helping the clinic tackle the issue. She emphasizes the debate of what causes obesity, and how it is a battle of nature vs. nurture.

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Dr. Edie Goldbacher

“Genetics loads the gun, Environment pulls the trigger,” said Goldbacher, who’s research interests have focused on weight- and eating-related concerns. In particular, she is interested in the construct of emotional eating and its association with weight change and psychological well-being. 

“A lot of times people blame the individual but it’s not really an individual problem. It’s a combination of genes and environment.”

Goldbacher supervises a clinic team in the doctoral program which focuses on weight management and disordered eating. The clinic is held in St. Benilde Tower at La Salle University, and is open to the community.

“Where La Salle is located, a food desert with very few fresh places to buy food, is often susceptible to these environmental factors,” said Goldbacher. “With mostly corner stores and fast food places are in the area, it is more reasonable for residents to choose cheap, unhealthy options.”

Are these conscious choices that people are making?

“It’s hard to decrease caloric intake when you are constantly surrounded by these types of foods. It’s not really about willpower it’s about so many other factors: mindless eating, not having the time, not having the resources. So part of what we do is help people make different choices and make the most of the environment in which they are presented.”

Many factors in people’s lives affect the nutrition and weight issue. “They usually have a lot of other stressers and/or are experiencing depression, anxiety, social stress… it’s this confluence of factors that make it difficult for people to implement the changes that they know they should make, but they can’t quite figure out how to make it stick.”

In a publication written by Theodore K. Kyle and Rebecca M. Puhl titled, “Putting People First in Obesity,” they explain how bias and discrimination against people with obesity creates obstacles. “Obese is an identity. Obesity is a disease. By addressing the disease separately from the person-and doing it consistently-we can pursue this disease while fully respecting the people affected.”

Goldbacher and the clinic at La Salle are demonstrating that: helping others overcome the struggle of obesity and malnutrition.

To enter the program, people interested in changing their eating habits interview a student clinician to learn more about what difficulties they’re having. They then transition into working with someone individually who will help them change their eating patterns.

The goal is to change the way people thing about eating, and psychology helps understand the source of the problem. Goldbacher stated that approximately 1-5% of the population binge eat.

La Salle University’s Community Psychological Services: Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight Clinic is low cost, sliding scale services. They provide individualized services concerning eating difficulties, and strive to improve treatment options, availability and outcomes.

To learn more about obesity, nutrition, and other health and wight related issues, visit http://yaleruddcenter.org/ where you can find many publications on the issue.