Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Government Commodities and Obesity

Does the Government have a duty to provide healthy balanced meals to its citizens that depend on food programs?  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  FDPIR is authorized under Section 4(b) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and Section 4(a) of the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973.  See 7 CFR Parts 250, 253, and 254 for authorities.  The FNS then works with Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) or an agency of the State government (for example the State of Nevada).  There are currently 276 tribes receiving FDPIR through 100 ITOs and 5 State agencies.

USDA purchases and ships FDPIR foods to the ITOs and State agencies based on available foods. The USDA food warehouse is located in Kansas City and distributes food throughout Indian Country. The administering agencies store and distribute the food and determine applicant eligibility  based on income (recipients are not eligible for food stamps but may be eligible for WIC). Some tribal nutrition programs provide food preparation and nutrition classes.

Individual Efficacy 
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people have endemically high rates of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases related to a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt. This is in part due to the dramatically quick culture change, displacement, and removal of AI/AN from their traditional homelands.  Many of the FDPIR foods have historically been high in starch with little nutritional value.

Group Efficacy
Some tribes have treaties with the US Government that names specific quantities of rations and other agricultural items partly in exchange for vast swaths of the Great Plains.  Some have argued that tribal sovereignty is tied to having these promises upheld, including the provisions for government rations.

Health Challenges
The balance of providing nutritious food to some of the most rural areas of the the nation, and running the FDPIR program efficiently is a real concern.  When the government is trying to reduce costs, how does it comply with centuries old promises to its first people, while ensuring that programs are efficiently run.

In Sum
There is no clear quick solution.  Below is an example of a protein product distributed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota.

FDPIR food product on Standing Rock Reservation
Photo Credit: Chase Iron Eyes, McLaughlin, South Dakota, February 6, 2015.

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