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Program aims to reduce hunger in Mississippi

By Emily Wagster Pettus

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 21 2012 12:28 p.m. MDT

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the nation, yet it also has the highest percentage of households unable to afford enough food for a healthy lifestyle.

It seems like a contradiction, but state Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith says the two problems are intertwined with poverty.

"You think hunger-obesity — where's the connection here? It's because much of these people do not have access to healthy foods," Hyde-Smith said Thursday during the announcement of a hunger-fighting effort.

The nonprofit National Urban League and meat processor Tyson Foods Inc. are starting a yearlong program to alleviate hunger for about 19,000 people in three Mississippi counties — Hinds County, which is home to the capital city of Jackson, and Warren and Adams counties, which border the Mississippi River.

Arkansas-based Tyson is donating 30,400 pounds of chicken, and the program aims to improve food distribution to the needy through Mississippi Food Network and other organizations. Officials also plan events to teach people to prepare nutritious meals with little money and to use coupons to stretch the grocery budget. The sessions also will offer information about registration for food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

"We want to create a dialogue about hunger here in Mississippi," Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson, said Thursday. "You know, it's hard to fight an enemy that you can't see. So what we want to do is bring this enemy out into the light so that we can fight him."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that from 2008 to 2010, 14.6 percent of U.S. households were "food insecure," meaning people in those homes might sometimes go without food because of a lack of money or other resources. Mississippi had the highest rate, with 19.4 percent of households.

"Too many of the hungry are our children," said Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor who is now president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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