But what is food insecurity, exactly? According to Feeding America, it’s defined as, “A lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. This can be a temporary situation for a household or can last a long time. Food insecurity is one way we can measure how many people cannot afford food.”
Here are five facts about food insecurity that you may not have known, plus a few ways to help.
1. The Number of Hungry Americans Is More Than You Think
42 million food-insecure Americans translates to 1 in 8 people nationwide and 13 million of those are children. Ethnic minorities are among the most affected, with 1 in 5 black, 1 in 4 Native American, and 1 in 6 Latino Americans reporting food scarcity compared to just 1 in 12 white, non-Hispanic individuals.
Pre-pandemic, global food insecurity was the lowest it had been in nearly 20 years sitting at about 764 million worldwide but jumped by an estimated 118 to 161 million between 2019 and 2021 due to the many fallouts of the pandemic. These include—but are not limited to— school closures cutting kids off from the National School Lunch program, food supply chain issues, loss of employment, non-perishable food product hoarding, and more.
2. Food Insecurity Is Not a Food Shortage Problem
Believe it or not, the fact that so many people are going hungry isn’t because there isn’t enough food to go around. The world produces enough food to feed 1.5 times the planet’s population every year but the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that we waste about a third of all food produced—an estimated 2.3 trillion pounds gets tossed. That’s enough to feed three billion people —a heck of a lot more than are currently in dire need.
So if it’s not lack of supply, then what are the causes of food insecurity? A number of things it turns out, which is what makes this global issue such a complicated problem to solve.
10 Causes of Food Insecurity
Here are just some of the reasons approximately 898 million people globally are food insecure.
- Loss of employment
- Systemic racism
- Unaffordable housing
- Chronic health issues
- War and conflict
- Climate change
- Lack of access to the right foods
- Food waste
3. The Implications Go Far Beyond Hunger
Unless you’ve lived a life of food scarcity, you may not know that the effects can be detrimental to health, quality of life, and put immense pressure on decisions around how to balance budgeting essentials on a low income.
Many people that report being food insecure often have to decide whether to pay utility bills, medical bills, or purchase groceries – sometimes having to wait for payday to afford a proper meal.
In addition to that, malnourished children are unable to properly grow, sustain energy, and absorb what’s being taught in school, which puts limitations on their future success before they’re even given a chance, putting them back into the loop of low-income living, where food insecurity prevails.
Long-term, a lack of access to adequate and nutritious food is linked to many diseases and conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, and many more chronic diseases.
Pregnant women are also at risk for conditions such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and hypertension, while newborns are at higher risk for low birth weight, as well as a number of birth defects such as spina bifida, cleft palate, and in some cases, even stillbirth.
4. The Food Insecure Are More Prone to Obesity
What might seem counterintuitive is that folks that are food insecure often find themselves at higher risk for obesity—10 percent more than the food secure, to be exact.
The reason for this is that these individuals are often in low-income households and most often rely on low-cost, high-calorie and often highly-processed foods due to limited access to high-quality, nutrient-dense foods from markets and grocery stores that are either geographically or financially out of reach.
5. There Are Ways To Help
A lot of these facts may be surprising—even grim—but there are ways to help. To make a difference, you can:
- Donate food to a local food bank. Enter your zip code to find one near you
- Donate your time to a local food rescue near you. Find one near you.
- Get help for you or someone in need by contacting 211, a comprehensive support service across the US for help with food insecurity and so much more
- Continue to stay informed by signing up for newsletters, following (and sharing!) social media pages by organizations like Feeding America
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