- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

SEATTLE - Laurieann Cossey has always struggled with her weight. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with diabetes. Now, six months pregnant and struggling to get by, the single mother tries to make sure her 1-year-old son gets the fruits and vegetables he needs.

“I worry a lot about my son being obese,” said Miss Cossey, whose mother and grandmother also had diabetes.

Miss Cossey, 43, and her son, Andrew, survive on food stamps, trips to the food bank, and a state program for pregnant women and their children that provides essentials such as dairy products, fruit juice and cereal.

She knows that both she and her son should be eating more fruits and vegetables, but boxed macaroni and cheese costs less than $1 to feed the whole family, while a fresh chicken breast and steamed vegetables cost about $2.60 per serving.

“I’m sure we’d all like to feed our children a nice healthy chicken breast and asparagus,” she said on a visit to a vegetable market. But pasta, canned vegetables and hamburger are much more likely to be on Miss Cossey’s table.

Scientists, doctors and government officials are working on ways to get poor families to eat healthier food.

The poor have more barriers to dealing with obesity, eating healthy and leading an active life, said Dr. Lydia Tinajero-Deck, a pediatrician who works on an obesity program at Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Calif.

Fast-food restaurants are more common in poor neighborhoods than fresh produce markets. Many parents, sometimes working two jobs, don’t have the time to cook healthy meals, and fresh food is more costly.

“Energy-dense foods rich in starch, sugar or fat are the cheapest option for the consumer,” said Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington. “As long as the healthier lean meats, fish and fresh produce are more expensive, obesity will continue to be a problem for the working poor.”

Dr. David L. Katz of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center advocates vegetable subsidies, including a junk-food tax that would use the money to lower the price of vegetables, as well as pay for anti-obesity programs.

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