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Experts Discuss Food in Mississippi

By Daniel Cherry | Published 01 Mar 2011 07:55am | comments

We all need air, water, and food to survive, but for Mississippians food is also the cause for many of the state's biggest health concerns. The state is the worst in the nation in obesity rates, but Mississippi also has more hunger than any other state. MPB's Daniel Cherry talks to some experts about the future of the state's food related problems.

When talking food issues in Mississippi there are no simple explanations or solutions, but some of the state's most qualified experts convened to talk about solving some of those problems. One of the biggest issues facing the state is poverty and how that factors into diet. Warren Yoder with the Public Policy Center of Mississippi says the problem begins with price.

"The United States and the World have done a great job at making food affordable, but not nutritious food. The local food, the fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive."

Yoder says low-quality and unhealthy foods are the cheapest to produce, and they're loaded with salt, fats, and sugars to make them taste good. Those foods are the main culprit behind the increases in childhood obesity and diabetes. Dr. Ralph Didlake of the University of Mississippi Medical Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities says identifying the culprit is only the beginning...for example the state banned soft drinks in public schools.

"That had political facets to it. It has economic facets to it. We cannot change anything in this complex system without it having all these other features that we have to understand completely before we undertake any sort of intervention."

Mississippi schools serve about 100 million meals per year, and Shane McNeill with the Mississippi Department of Education says the state has been making an effort to use that as an opportunity to introduce children to healthy eating. But sometimes it's more important than that.

"There's a percentage of children who eat two meals a day. Breakfast at school and lunch at school. That makes it critical that the food we're providing during the school day is high in nutritional value. They're not consuming foods with empty calories."

The Mississippi Humanities Council will be addressing food related issues in Mississippi for the next year. Daniel Cherry...MPB News. 

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