For many people in the United States, Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy a huge feast. But for the 50.1 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table, it’s just another day of hunger. The dangers of food insecurity—the inability to access healthy food due to economic struggles or accessibility—are very real and can have a lasting effect on the health and wellness of everyone from infants to seniors. The top five food insecure states are Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia. However, alarmingly, food insecurity is a problem in every county in the United States.
Those 50 million people, who make up 14.5 percent of households in the country, include about 16 million children. That means that one in five children are at risk of hunger. Within the Latino and African American communities, the number grows to include one in three children. Though 20 million children receive free or reduced lunch, less than half of those children receive breakfast, and 90 percent struggle with access to summer food service programs. There is still much work to be done to ensure that every child in the United States has enough nutritious food to eat.
Not having access to nutritious food can have a serious effect on the physical and emotional development of children and adults. In the case of children under five, a poor diet can have a drastic effect on the development of the immune system. For adults, food insecurity can be just as devastating. The potential effects include increased risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular problems. People facing food insecurity are also more likely to experience high levels of aggression and anxiety, as well as potentially poor social skills.
The programs available to those who struggle with access to nutritious meals are woefully underfunded and don’t reach some of the people who need them most. Still, one in seven people in the United States are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Of those people, nearly half are children. One of the most frustrating aspects of the fight against hunger, is that the problem—at least in the United States—isn’t caused by lack of food, it’s caused by poverty. Nearly 40 percent of food is thrown out in the U.S. every year with a total price tag of $165 billion. If that food was instead given to food insecure families and individuals, it could feed 25 million people.
So what can you do? Although poverty is an entrenched, complex problem with no simple solution, you can do your part in the fight against hunger.
- Work with a local grocery store to set up a food drive. Write up a handout with a list of most-needed items to hand to shoppers on their way in. On the way out, have large containers to collect donations.
- Make a donation to Feeding America, an organization that works with a nationwide network of food banks. You can donate online at www.feedingamerica.org.
- Write a letter to your congressional representative about ending the fight against hunger. The more people raise the issue, the more likely it will gain necessary attention.
- Have a lemonade or hot chocolate stand at a school event. Each cup should cost a donated item.