"We have a real moral imperative to improve our food stream."

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
© Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

America's obesity epidemic has perhaps hit the most food insecure hardest, as foods high in sugar and fat are typically cheaper and more accessible. Now, one Washington, DC area food bank is taking a stand against junk food and denying donations of highly processed, sugary foods to its facilities.

At the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), president and CEO, Nancy Roman, has seen a recent onslaught of donations of this junk food, turning their operation into an "incredible exploding warehouse of sheet cakes." In order to combat this, beginning on September 1 Roman and her team will no longer accept a number of unhealthy food items, including candy, soda, and baked sweets. "With so many of those we serve struggling with diabetes or heart disease, we have a real moral imperative to improve our food stream," Roman says of the major change to the organization.

According to Roman, high blood pressure and diabetes are significant issues facing many of those served at the food bank, and the CAFB hopes this decision will enable them to help improve the health of those they serve. The food bank will work hand-in-hand with two major retail contributors—Shoppers Food and Pharmacy Bob Gleeson—to provide healthier, more nutritious meals to those in need. Currently, the organization distributes 45 million pounds of food per year, 1/3 of which is produce, to the half a million food insecure residents DC and its suburbs.

However, DC isn't the only area where food insecure households tend to struggle with obesity and other food-related ailments. As Vox notes, much research has linked a lack of food to obesity, especially in women. Called by some the "food insecurity obesity paradox," these households not only struggle to pay for the more expensive fresh ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, but also might experience a mental response that drives them to consume more caloric foods. Those who have a more constrained access to food tend to seek out the highest-calorie and least expensive items possible.

"To maintain adequate energy intake, many families with limited resources select lower-quality diets, including high-calorie, energy-dense foods," says Angela Odoms-Young, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois. That trend is exactly what Roman and her organization are looking to turn around by rejecting junk food from their supply.

The decision to restrict donations "took a lot of courage," according to Roman, since "there are a lot of people who feel you can't offend the donors." However, the CAFB and other food bank pioneers who could eventually follow in their footsteps is doing what they can to guarantee that those who come through their doors, ready to eat, are getting the most nutritious, energizing meal possible.