This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children and Julianne Moore. Moore leads the organization's Valentine's Day campaign, through which cards are sold to support the fight against poverty in the U.S. To learn more go to SaveTheChildren.org.
There are many things I understand. And my faith tells me that there are also things that only God can know. But there remain a few things that I can comprehend on neither a mental nor spiritual level. Child poverty and obesity are two of those things.
Frankly, the extent of child poverty here in America, the richest country in the world, is shameful. How can we afford to give huge tax breaks to the rich and build ever more weapons of mass destruction but cannot ensure that our children live in homes where there is both food, and healthy food at that?
It doesn't have to be this way. Our despicable child poverty and obesity rates exist because we've failed to prioritize our children. Just look at the issues bandied about at presidential candidate debates, confirming our poor choice of priorities: defense budgets and human colonies on the moon, for example. These are the platforms on which the next leader of the free world should be selected?
What happened to ensuring a reasonable quality of life for all Americans and fighting for those who cannot do so themselves, our children and those less fortunate? While we like to believe we are ever evolving, it's hard to conclude that we are going in the right direction when just last year the number of Americans living in poverty jumped to an historic high resulting in nearly a quarter of our children living at or below the poverty line. We're going in the wrong direction and it is absolutely unacceptable from moral and religious standpoints to continue with business as usual as our children starve and face the scary possibility of early deaths.
It's not that we don't know what the right direction is. We Christians recognize Jesus as our Lord and Savior and should remember very well that when his very own disciples attempted to keep people from bringing their children to Christ in order to receive a blessing, Jesus was indignant and said, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs" (Mark 10:13-14). That's the kind of prioritization I'm talking about!
We are where we are as a society in large part because of public policy choices that have resulted in everything from a focus on military adventures and weapons systems to a great many people being sold mortgages they cannot afford and subsequently losing their homes. These same public policy choices are responsible for the increasing wealth gap and the consequent futures of our impoverished and overweight children growing dimmer.
The faith community is, has and will continue to stand on behalf of children. It resonates with the very core tenet of all faiths, to love others. Through both financial and programmatic support, houses of worship across the country are doing their part to positively impact the lives of impoverished children. And to combat childhood obesity -- a deadly epidemic that is directly connected to poverty -- we support Save the Children's Campaign for Healthy Kids and its work to see Targeted Coordinated School Health implemented in every state school. Targeted Coordinated School Health empowers communities to create their own interventions to meet their specific needs, and increases access to healthy foods and physical education. It's a shining example of the kinds of programs that should be priorities on the national stage.
How, you might ask, are childhood poverty and obesity connected? One of the saddest facts about this reality is the practice we have of blaming all obese for their weight and the poor for their poverty. In fact it is an ugly cycle they find themselves in. Our poorest people have limited choices and are placed in the peculiar situation of using their slender resources to purchase starchy, unhealthy, but filling foods just to make their few dollars stretch. This is a huge, systemic problem. We must face up to the real causes that are contributing not just to these two blights on our society, but to a larger, looming health crisis that is frightening in its implications for us as a society.
We expect more from our leaders and elected officials. We expect them to prioritize our children. We demand that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, that military expenditures be reduced, and resources be redirected to make our precious children the national priority. We want to see aggressive monitoring of advertisers who market sugary, fatty and processed foods to our vulnerable children and greater support of subsidies given to farmers and agribusinesses.
Childhood poverty and obesity are a tarnish on who we are as people and at the end of the day, we all -- believers or not -- have a responsibility to do better.