FLCC fights childhood obesity, diabetesWritten by Patrick Timmis | | email@example.com
Toledo Free Press will focus a six-week series this summer on the mission of Feed Lucas County Children (FLCC). From July 3 to July 17, Walt Churchill’s markets will participate in a “Round Up Hunger” campaign to raise funds for FLCC.
When Tony Siebeneck read a newspaper story about child hunger in Toledo 11 years ago, he wasn’t buying it.
“Man, that’s not true,” he recalled saying. “Don’t give me no bleeding heart story.”
But after a year of grassroots research with a group of friends, he decided the article had been understated. Siebeneck founded Feed Lucas County Children in response. The group works to feed healthy meals to up to 6,200 children at more than 67 locations on weekdays all summer.
In Lucas County, 29,962 children under the age of 18 — 27.4 percent — live at or below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census. During the school year, the National School Lunch Program ensures at least one meal a day for them. But that program halts during the long summer break, leaving many children scrounging for cheap food.
For hungry children, the cheapest and most readily attainable meal is often a burger and fries from a fast-food chain.
Anthony Johnson, director of inner-city program Kids Unlimited, said children raid trash bins behind fast-food restaurants after closing time for a late dinner.
These foods are unhealthy and, when depended on for survival, can result in obesity and Type II diabetes and open children to a host of other diseases, said Jeannie Wagner, a registered dietitian at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center who works primarily with adult diabetics.
Twenty years ago, Wagner said, she never saw Type 2 diabetes, but the disease has flourished as people have become more obese. Today, she said nine out of 10 diabetics she treats are Type 2.
Feed Lucas County Children is trying to combat the issue by offering regular, balanced meals — avoiding fried and heavily processed foods in favor of healthier options.
“This is a chicken patty,” Siebeneck said, picking up a particle-board piece of meat resembling McChicken sandwich meat. “Processed. Garbage.”
“This is a prime example of what makes us different,” he added, indicating a whole-muscle chicken breast in his other hand.
The lunch menu for June 15 consisted of barbecue chicken, Mexican corn, an orange, a wheat roll and a carton of milk.
The organization focuses on providing fresh or frozen fruits and, when it does use canned produce and vegetables, avoiding heavy syrups.
Siebeneck prides himself on the fact that the FLCC kitchen is without a fryer.
Instead, 14 industrial steamers line the wall, which Siebeneck said is the healthiest way to cook food — conserving the most nutrients possible.
Siebeneck worries that FLCC is running out of kitchen space. Unless the organization expands into another building, he said, it will soon have to turn hungry mouths away. But expansion costs money — anywhere from $850,000 to almost $2 million, depending on the project’s scale —and that’s money the FLCC does not have.
Sonia Najjar, director of UT’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Research, said about 33,000 Type 2 diabetics live in Toledo. She estimated that five years ago, 6 percent of them were children.
Today, she estimated, more than 9 percent are children.
“Our bodies, our children’s bodies are basically aging due to obesity,” she said. “They are using computers much more than we did. They are not using playgrounds like we did.”
Blacks and Hispanics, populations with a high percentage under the poverty line in Ohio according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, are at an especially high risk for Type 2 diabetes.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Hispanics have a 66 percent higher risk and blacks have a 77 percent higher risk of contracting the disease than non-Hispanic whites.
According to the most recently available data from the CDCP, about half of the newly diagnosed cases of diabetes each year for black children between the ages 10-19 are Type 2, as opposed to Type 1, which is not diet-related. Just under half of new cases for Hispanic children in the same age range are also Type 2.
Many Toledo children survive on one or at best two meals a day, said parent Dacia Bolden, whose children have eaten at FLCC when she struggled to pay the grocery bills.
Wagner at St. Vincent said skipping meals is a major contributor to obesity and, by extension, diabetes. If a child doesn’t eat breakfast, his metabolism doesn’t start working to burn food, and he is then more likely to gorge on food when it is available — junk food out of a trash bin, for instance.
Danny Gray, a black Toledo resident, has had Type 2 diabetes for years and was in the hospital during the winter. He doesn’t have healt insurance, so fighting the disease with a healthy diet is vital for him.
During the summers, he volunteers and eats at FLCC, which he said has helped him to balance his diet. Last year, his son Danny Jr. — who Gray believes is also diabetic — also worked and ate there.
“It keeps me at the portion I should have, rather than overloading my plate like it’s Thanksgiving,” Gray said.
The healthier meals have also helped him avoid his habitual fast-food run, which he believes contributed to many of his problems.
“I’m trying to break that,” he said. “I’m a fast-food junkie.”