Mercer Street Friends Food Bank works to keeps Jersey at a healthy weight

December 6, 2012
by Laurie Pellichero
Trenton Times

Recognizing the link between poverty, food insecurity and poor health, the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank sets high standards regarding the nutritional value of the food it channels into the community for hunger relief.

According to the food bank, 90 percent of all the food it distributes meets the requirements outlined in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2001, its MyPlate guidelines and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet.

There are many good reasons to increase access to healthy food, especially in light of the obesity epidemic in America. While New Jersey fares better than many other states, 24.1 percent of the state’s population is obese, or close to one out of every four residents.

The eighth edition of “F as in Fat 2011: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future,” published by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, reports that overweight and obesity rates and chronic health problems have dramatically increased over the past two decades.

- Fifteen years ago, New Jersey had a combined obesity and overweight rate of 47 percent. Ten years ago, it was 55.2 percent. Now the combined rate is 61.8 percent.
- Diabetes rates have doubled in ten states in the past 15 years. In 1995, New Jersey had a diabetes rate of 4.9 percent. Now the rate is 8.8 percent.

- Fifteen years ago, New Jersey had a hypertension rate of 23.5 percent. Now, the rate is 27.2 percent.

Even more alarming are the findings of “The New Jersey Childhood Obesity Study,” a report by the Rutgers Center for State Health policy and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which reveals that in the city of Trenton:

- Nearly half of children (48.6 percent) between the age of 3 and 18 are overweight or obese; more than 1 in 4 children in every age category is obese.

- Among different age groups, the highest rate of obesity at 48.6 percent was among children ages 3-5.

- Despite the high prevalence of overweight and obesity among children attending the Trenton public schools, a vast majority of parents did not think their children were overweight or obese.

The study also looked at food consumption and found that children fell far below the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables but exceeded the recommendations for sugar-sweetened and salty food. Again, the majority of parents in Trenton thought that their children had healthy eating habits.

“Providing nutritious food to individuals and families to help them get through these tough times not only affects their physical and emotional well-being, but also strengthens their economic stability by enabling them to direct their limited financial resources for other basic needs such as housing, clothing, medicine or health care,” said Ruche Garden, director of programs and agency services at Mercer Street Friends Food Bank.

“The community as a whole benefits from children more equipped to learn and thrive, a workforce in better physical and emotional shape and decreased costs for public health,” she said.

Donations to The Times Holiday Appeal will help to ensure that the food bank’s warehouse remains stocked with nutritious food to fill the growing demand during these very difficult times. First Choice Bank has pledged to match the next $5,000 raised from contributors, challenging the community to be generous this holiday season.

To make a donation in support of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, make your check payable to The Times Holiday Appeal and mail it to Times Charities Inc., 413 River View Plaza, Trenton, NJ 08611.

All gifts will be acknowledged in The Times. Anonymity will be granted if requested.
For more information about the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, call (609) 406-0503 or go to

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