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Money Matters: Why cost and convenience are leading to obesity

It's easy to say, but often difficult to do... eating healthy. NBC 6's Dan Jovic examines the true costs and challenges presented with eating smart in a Money Matters report.
We've all done it. It's easy. It's cheap. But above all, dining out or eating processed foods requires no plan.

And that lack of planning has helped contribute to Louisiana becoming the most obese state in the U.S., according to the most recent CDC data.

The people who help in the battle against obesity each day say convenience is key contributor. Both too much convenience and too little.

"Food is one of the most important drugs you put in you body," said Dr. Susan Kemp, Chief of Medicine at Christus Health Shreveport - Bossier. "And people don't often think of that way."

Dr. Kemp see patients who sometimes have to walk or catch a bus to the grocery store.

"People who can't get to the grocery store very frequently may tend to buy processed foods. Things that may have longer shelve lives," said Dr. Kemp. "But if it's a transportation issue, you may have to buy in bulk and try to find things with longer shelf lives."

A vicious cycle that gets complicated further in poorer communities.

In Shreveport's Allendale Neighborhood choices for fresh groceries and produce are few and far between. In fact there is only one grocery store within a 12 block radius.

A diet of corner store foods is often the solution, and those on government assistance see no financial incentive to eat healthier foods.

"We've approached the USDA in the past and asked if we could incentivize certain foods, healthier foods, for people on SNAP to purchase," said Trey Williams, Director, Communications & Governmental Affairs for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. "We have tried at the state level to look at options that we can do. Unfortunately from what we are being told by the USDA, that's out of our hands. So we'll continue to try to educate SNAP recipients to make the best choices available with the monthly allotment they receive."

But there is a flip side when transportation and money are not an issue, too much convenience. Which leads to excess.

If you do your grocery shopping along Youree Drive in south Shreveport, in a roughly two-mile radius you are confronted with 88 different choices for you to grab food quickly. That convenience presents some challenges when it comes to eating healthy.

Shreveport based chef Jennifer Gieseke runs a business based on cooking and delivering healthy, plant based meals to her clients.

"In the long run eating healthy is less expensive. You have less doctors visits. You have less medication you have to take," said Gieseke. "It's sort of like an insurance policy. You pay a little bit now, so you don't have to pay more later."

According to Dr. Kemp, how much is being paid, in the long run, is eye-opening.

"Even now, the insurance companies are taking note of it," said Dr. Kemp. "Because it costs on average about $1,500 per year, per patient, who is obese. And that's one in three American's right now."
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