The Face of Hunger in Today's America

For the 20 percent of Americans who experience food insecurity, hunger is their reality every day.  Senior citizens, who are unable to work and have no family support, go hungry.  Mothers and fathers, who choose to skip meals so that their children are fed, go to bed hungry.  Children, whose parents are unable to provide breakfast, go to school hungry.  However, hunger is not the only consequence of food insecurity.  Food insecurity affects our nation’s overall health on more levels than we realize.  Hunger is only the first in a series of negative effects experienced by those who struggle with food insecurity.  There is a correlation between the states with higher than average food insecurity rates and those with higher rates of chronic illness and obesity.  

According to Feeding America, a prevalence of several chronic illness is higher among Americans living in food-insecure households.  It makes sense that when it is difficult to find adequate meals on a regular basis, the chances of one health declining begin to rise.  In order to have a healthy, active lifestyle, we must consume a healthy and nutritious diet.  Whenever our nutrition is compromised, we are put at risk.  If the food we put into our bodies is not nutritious and is only filling, we deprive ourselves of many essential vitamins and minerals our bodies depend on in order to function properly. People who are malnourished suffer from vitamin deficiency, anemia, and osteoporosis (to name a few), which if untreated may result in more severe health complications and even death.  

Food insecurity can be even more detrimental to children’s.  A lack of adequate nutrition can literally change the architecture of a child's brain, affecting his or her mental, physical and emotional health.  Nearly 16 million children are food insecure and are far more likely to have limited access to sufficient food than the general population because they cannot work. While 15.9% of Americans lived in food-insecure households, 21.6% of children had uncertain access to food as of 2013.  The number of food- insecure children has likely to increased due to a reduction of benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in November 2013 after this data was collected.  Prior to the cut, 45% of all SNAP beneficiaries were children; therefore, the situation may be even worse than we realize.

Many people wonder how America has experienced a simultaneous rise in obesity and food insecurity rates.  According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the incidence of diabetes and obesity was especially high in the states with high rates of food insecurity.  In fact, people who live in homes that are food-insecure have twice the rate of type 2 diabetes. Five states with the highest food insecurity among children — Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, and North Carolina — also had obesity rates above the national rate of 27.1%.  Upon closer examination, we find that obesity and food insecurity do not exist at opposite ends of the spectrum but are rather two sides of the same coin.  Unhealthy, prepackaged foods with higher sodium, fat, and sugar content are cheaper and faster than fresh, healthy ingredients used to cook nutritious meals.  This results in many food-insecure families who consume these high amounts empty calories on a regular basis experiencing decreased energy levels, which leads to inactivity and weight gain.  

Unfortunately, many Americans, especially those on a tight budget, have come to prefer foods that are cheaper, faster, and nutritionally inferior.  Many families struggling with hunger rely upon quantity over quality, which comes with a sacrifice to their overall health and quality of life.  Now, a burger at a fast food restaurant may cost as little as $0.99 while a salad costs $4.99.  Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who endured The Great Depression suffered from hunger and extreme poverty, not having access to the endless miles of fast food chains or vast array of prepackaged meals at the grocery store.  More families grew their own vegetables or bought produce from a local farmer.  Today, over 60 percent of married couples with children both work, leaving less time to spend on budgeting and shopping for cost-effective, healthy alternatives for a home cooked meal.  While the face of hunger in America has changed over the generations, it is still very real for millions of families.