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18.6: Food Insecurity

[ "article:topic", "authorname:hawaiinutrition", "Food Insecurity", "hunger" ]
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  • Skills to Develop

    • Learn about the effects of food insecurities

    Government agencies also play an important role in addressing hunger via federal food-assistance programs. The agencies provide debit cards (formerly distributed in the form of food vouchers or food stamps) to consumers to help them purchase food and they also provide other forms of aid to low-income adults and families who face hunger and nutritional deficits. This topic will be discussed in greater detail later in this chapter.

    Hunger relates to appetite and is the body’s response to a need for nourishment. Through stomach discomfort or intestinal rumbling, the body alerts the brain that it requires food. This uneasy sensation is easily addressed with a snack or a full meal. However, the term “hunger” also relates to a weakened condition that is a consequence of a prolonged lack of food. People who suffer from this form of hunger typically experience malnourishment, along with poor growth and development.

    Hunger

    Adequate food intake that meets nutritional requirements is essential to achieve a healthy, productive lifestyle. However, millions of people in North America, not to mention globally, go hungry and are malnourished each year due to a recurring and involuntary lack of food. The economic crisis of 2008 caused a dramatic increase in hunger across the United States.[1]

    In 2010, 925 million people around the world were classified as hungry. Although this was a decrease from a historic high of more than one billion people from the previous year, it is still an unbearable number. Every night, millions and millions of people go to sleep hungry due to a lack of the money or resources needed to acquire an adequate amount of food. This graph shows the division of hungry people around the globe. A number of terms are used to categorize and classify hunger. Two key terms, food security and food insecurity, focus on status and affect hunger statistics. Another term, malnutrition, refers to the deficiencies that a hungry person experiences.

    Food Security and Food Insecurity

    Most American households are considered to be food secure, which means they have adequate access to food and consume enough nutrients to achieve a healthy lifestyle. However, a minority of US households experiences food insecurity at certain points during the year, which means their access to food is limited due to a lack of money or other resources. This graphic shows the percentage of food-secure and food-insecure households in the United States during the year 2010.

    Food insecurity is defined as not having adequate access to food that meets nutritional needs. According to the USDA, about 48.8 million people live in food-insecure households and have reported multiple indications of food access problems. About sixteen million of those have “very low food security,” which means one or more people in the household were hungry at some point over the course of a year due to the inability to afford enough food. The difference between low and very low food security is that members of low insecurity households have reported problems of food access, but have reported only a few instances of reduced food intake, if any.[2] African American and Hispanic households experience food insecurity at much higher rates than the national average.[3]

    Households with limited resources employ a variety of methods to increase their access to adequate food. Some families purchase junk food and fast food—cheaper options that are also very unhealthy. Other families who struggle with food security supplement the groceries they purchase by participating in government assistance programs. They may also obtain food from emergency providers, such as food banks and soup kitchens in their communities.

    Malnutrition

    A person living in a food-insecure household may suffer from malnutrition, which results from a failure to meet nutrient requirements. This can occur as a result of consuming too little food or not enough key nutrients. There are two basic types of malnutrition. The first is macronutrient deficiency and relates to the lack of adequate protein, which is required for cell growth, maintenance, and repair. The second type of malnutrition is micronutrient deficiency and relates to inadequate vitamin and mineral intake.[4] Even people who are overweight or obese can suffer from this kind of malnutrition if they eat foods that do not meet all of their nutritional needs.

    Worldwide, three main groups are most at risk of hunger: the rural poor in developing nations who also lack access to electricity and safe drinking water, the urban poor who live in expanding cities and lack the means to buy food, and victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural and man-made catastrophes.[5]

    In the United States, there are additional subgroups that are at risk and are more likely than others to face hunger and malnutrition. They include low-income families and the working poor, who are employed but have incomes below the federal poverty level.

    Senior citizens are also a major at-risk group. Many elderly people are frail and isolated, which affects their ability to meet their dietary requirements. In addition, many also have low incomes, limited resources, and difficulty purchasing or preparing food due to health issues or poor mobility. As a result, more than six million senior citizens in the United States face the threat of hunger.[6]

    One of the groups that struggles with hunger are the millions of homeless people across North America. According to a recent study by the US Conference of Mayors, the majority of reporting cities saw an increase in the number of homeless families.[7] Hunger and homelessness often go hand-in-hand as homeless families and adults turn to soup kitchens or food pantries or resort to begging for food.

    Rising hunger rates in the United States particularly affect children. Nearly one out of four children, or 21.6 percent of all American children, lives in a food-insecure household and spends at least part of the year hungry.[8] Hunger delays their growth and development and affects their educational progress because it is more difficult for hungry or malnourished students to concentrate in school. In addition, children who are undernourished are more susceptible to contracting diseases, such as measles and pneumonia.[9]

    Government Programs

    The federal government has established a number of programs that work to alleviate hunger and ensure that many low-income families receive the nutrition they require to live a healthy life. A number of programs were strengthened by the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This legislation authorized funding and set the policy for several key core programs that provide a safety net for food-insecure children across the United States.

    The federal poverty level (FPL) is used to determine eligibility for food-assistance programs. This monetary figure is the minimum amount that a family would need to acquire shelter, food, clothing, and other necessities. It is calculated based on family size and is adjusted for annual inflation. Although many people who fall below the FPL are unemployed, the working poor can qualify for food programs and other forms of public assistance if their income is less than a certain percentage of the federal poverty level, along with other qualifications.

    USDA Food Assistance Programs

    Government food and nutrition assistance programs that are organized and operated by the USDA work to increase food security. They provide low-income households with access to food, the tools for consuming a healthy diet, and education about nutrition. The USDA monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity via an annual survey. This contributes to the efficiency of food assistance programs as well as the effectiveness of private charities and other initiatives aimed at reducing food insecurity.[10]

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

    Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits for low-income households to purchase approved food items at authorized stores. Clients qualify for the program based on available household income, assets, and certain basic expenses. In an average month, SNAP provides benefits to more than forty million people in the United States.[11] The program provides Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT) which work similarly to a debit card. Clients receive a card with a certain allocation of money for each month that can be used only for food. In 2010, the average benefit was about $134 per person, per month and total federal expenditures for the program were $68.2 billion.[12]

    The Special, Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children

    The Special, Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides food packages to pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as to infants and children up to age five, to promote adequate intake for healthy growth and development. Most state WIC programs provide vouchers that participants use to acquire supplemental packages at authorized stores. In 2010, WIC served approximately 9.2 million participants per month at an average monthly cost of about forty-two dollars per person.[13]

    The National School Lunch Program

    The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) ensure that children in elementary and middle schools receive at least one healthy meal each school day, or two if both the NSLP and SBP are provided. According to the USDA, these programs operate in over 101,000 public and nonprofit private schools and residential child-care institutions.[14] In 2010, the programs provided meals to an average of 31.6 million children each school day. Fifty-six percent of the lunches served were free, and an additional 10 percent were provided at reduced prices.

    Meals on Wheels

    An organization known as Meals on Wheels delivers meals to elderly people who have difficulty buying or making their own food because of poor health or limited mobility. It is the oldest and largest program dedicated to addressing the nutritional needs of senior citizens. Each day, Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver more than one million meals across the United States. The first Meals on Wheels program began in Philadelphia in the 1950s. In the decades since, the organization has expanded into a vast network that serves the elderly in all fifty states and several US territories. Today, Meals on Wheels remains committed to ending hunger among the senior citizen community.[15]

    1280px-Meals_on_Wheels_delivery.jpg

    Delivery of Thanksgiving dinner to a Meals on Wheels recipient. Clara Donney, (right), a Meals on Wheels recipient of a Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by the Great Falls Community Food Bank, is all smiles as Airman 1st Class Courtney Taylor, customer service technician with the 341st Comptroller Squadron, delivers her meal. Image used with permission (Public Domain; U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen)

    Nutrition and Your Health

    The adage, “you are what you eat,” seems to be more true today than ever. In recent years, consumers have become more conscientious about the decisions they make in the supermarket. Organically grown food is the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Also, farmers’ markets and chains that are health-food-oriented are thriving in many parts of North America. Shoppers have begun to pay more attention to the effect of food on their health and well-being. That includes not only the kinds of foods that they purchase, but also the manner in which meals are cooked and consumed. The preparation of food can greatly affect its nutritional value. Also, studies have shown that eating at a table with family members or friends can promote both health and happiness.

    Footnotes 

    1. Hunger in America: 2016 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts. World Hunger Education Service. Retrieved from http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    2. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    3. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    4. Hunger in America: 2016 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts. World Hunger Education Service. Retrieved from http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    5. SOFI: Questions and Answers. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/3/a-BT851E.pdf. Accessed April 15, 208. 
    6. About Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels. https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/signup/aboutmealsonwheels. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    7. Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities, a 27-City Survey. The United States Conference of Mayors. https://endhomelessness.atavist.com/mayorsreport2016. Accessed April 15, 2018.    
    8. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    9. 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics. World Hunger Education Service.https://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/old/world%20hunger%20facts%202002in2011.htm. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    10. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    11. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    12. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    13. Coleman-Jensen A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report, no. ERR-125. 2011.  https://www.ers.usda.gov/publication...s/?pubid=44909. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    14. National School Lunch Program. US Department of Agriculture. https://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/national-school-lunch-program-nslp. Accessed April 15, 2018. 
    15. The Problem and Our Solution. Meals on Wheels. https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/theissue/problemandsolution. Accessed April 15, 2018.