03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Serving Healthy Thanksgiving Plates, Not Just Full Ones

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a new government study revealed that 183,000 more American households with children suffered from low food security last year than the year before, meaning that finances likely forced parents to cut children's portions or entire meals altogether.

That striking and alarming development is, at first, hard to reconcile with a childhood obesity crisis in which almost one third of American children are overweight or obese.

Are America's children suffering from too much food or too little? They answer is: both.

Children in low-income families are simply getting too little of the right foods and too much of the wrong foods. Families that are struggling to put food on the table resort to "cheaper" calories like soda instead of healthy -- and more expensive ones -- like fruits and vegetables.

Thus, the childhood hunger crisis in America doesn't contradict the childhood obesity crisis: it's connected to it. A toddler who experience food insecurity is more than three times more likely to become obese when she reaches four and a half years old, which puts her at a greater risk for obesity than having an obese parent would.

What can we do? Here are two first steps:

First, make it easier for families to afford healthy food. Expanding eligibility to programs like WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) [while increasing the incentives for families to purchase healthier foods would go a long way toward fighting both hunger and obesity.

Second, we need to offer healthy choices to families in the vast swaths of America where there is limited access to robust grocery stores and fresh food. Public-private partnerships can make a difference: urban communities like Hartford, CT have started programs where retailers receive assistance for shifting a portion of their shelf space to healthier options.

One innovative rural initiative is Iowa's Farm to Folk program, where rural consumers can order food produced by local farmers and pick it up at a neighborhood church.

Indeed, bringing healthy choices to more American families is a challenge that can be solved with the partnership of the private and public sectors.

As we gather around the table for Thanksgiving, our prayers and call to action for everyone around the table shouldn't simply be about food on the plate for every American man, woman and child, but food that leads to healthy, vibrant and full lives.