The Overwhelming Problem Of Food Insecurity In America

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he world has a food problem. Every year, an estimated 222-million tons of edible food is thrown away by developed nations. The United States is one of the largest culprits, trashing $162-billion worth of food annually. Meanwhile, India throws away about $9.23-billion worth of food, and Africa isn’t far behind. The message here is pretty clear: Globally, we have a lot of food and we don’t know what to do with it.

And yet, around the world hunger is an issue that continues to plague us. How is it possible that, while we’re throwing away so much food, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty and 2.6 million children starve to death? And the issue of hunger isn’t just a third world concern; here in the United States, an estimated 49 million people struggle to put food on the table. Food insecurity, or the lack of reliable access to nutritious food, strikes neighborhoods and families across the United States, and there are no signs of relief.

According to the USDA, around 14.5 percent of the U.S. population struggles with food insecurity, and that number increases to 20 percent in households with children. These families are unable to guarantee year-round access to enough food to feed themselves, and the nutritional value of the food they are able to access is often much lower than recommended by the FDA. Although there are a lot of issues that contribute to these high numbers, including poverty, it all boils down to hunger.

Food deserts, or areas that lack access to healthy foods, are another issue. Instead of supermarkets or farmers’ markets, these areas often have convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Although urban areas often have potentially more access to healthier foods, rural areas and areas isolated from public transportation struggle to meet the needs of residents.

A prime example is the redlining in St. Louis that, to this day, segregates minority populations into lower-quality sectors of the city. Redlining began with a ballot in 1916 that sought to separate cities into black and white neighborhoods, and assumed that minority neighborhood properties had lower value than property owned by caucasian individuals. Then in the 1930s, a federal mortgage insurance company rated different neighborhoods based on perceived security—white neighborhoods typically received an “A,” and black urban neighborhood boundaries were defined and typically given a “D”—hence the term “redlining.” The redlining situation played out across America and, almost a century later, minorities are still experiencing the hardships created by those practices. Such as the fact that northern St. Louis still has no access to the city’s primary two train lines, and has to navigate ridiculous long bus routes to finally reach the trains. So, in addition to being surrounded by lower value property, access to public transportation, healthier food options, and safe areas for physical activity are all severely reduced.

Food insecurity doesn’t always look like traditional images of starvation and malnutrition. In fact, food insecurity has been found to have links to obesity, meaning those who struggle with food insecurity may also struggle with obesity. This is referred to as the food insecurity-obesity paradox, and it contributes to the cycle of unhealthy living that makes these populations vulnerable. One reason for this link is the pseudo-binge cycle, or the practice of rapidly spending food stamps and binge eating. This bingeing can cause weight destabilization as it repeats each month, which can lead to obesity-related comorbid conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Most often the foods within easy access are also very low in nutritional value and very high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories.

Women have been found to suffer a great deal as a result of hunger. 14.5 percent of women in the United States are living below the poverty line, compared to 11.9 percent of their single counterparts, and the poverty statistics rise even higher for minority women. Single mother households make up 83 percent of the United States’ single parent households, and 34 percent of single mother households are food insecure. You read that right—single mother households are twice as food insecure as the average U.S. population. Furthermore, women are more likely to give up their food for dependents, and they are more likely to be obese than peers who do not struggle with food insecurity. In the United States, poverty, hunger, and obesity come together and strike the hardest at women, and minority populations.

There are programs designed to help alleviate these issues, but for many they aren’t doing enough. Food banks and pantries, food stamps, Meals on Wheels, and WIC assist with addressing food insecurity, and will even offer nutrition education classes in combination with food pick-up times. But all of these components simply aren’t enough. Food insecurity is a systemic public health problem in a country overflowing with food, and money only trickling into the public health sector. So what can you do to help this overwhelming situation?

Start with checking out these links:

  • Do you live in a food desert? Check out this link.
  • Feeding America and Second Harvest (google to find the one for your state) – Donating to food banks and pantries is a short-term step you can take to help America’s hungry. Get involved with your local food banks to brainstorm ways to deliver healthier food to patrons.
  • American Public Health AssociationUnited Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Resources Institute – A long-term step to take is becoming aware of public health legislature that is always being debated on the state, federal, and global levels. Once you’re informed, advocate and vote!

Suggested reading about redlining:

See Also
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“Black Picket Fences”

Are you as passionate about this issue as we are? What are your experiences with food insecurity? What do you do to address the issue? Comment below or tweet us @litdarling!

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