Hunger and Health
Health and Food Insecurity – A Comprehensive Approach
by Katie Maschino, Hunger Free Oklahoma Hunger Outreach Program Specialist
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” This enables those working in the anti-hunger field to use a comprehensive approach when looking at the issues and solutions in solving hunger.
There are many elements to consider when talking about the issue of hunger:
- Is there enough food?
- Are there enough calories?
- Does the food that’s available have the nutrients, essential vitamins, and minerals our bodies need to function properly?
- Do the individuals know what the food is?
- Do the individuals prefer this food?
- Do the individuals know how to prepare or eat it?
This blog will focus on the issue of food quantity. In order to understand the impact of hunger, we must consider how hunger affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), research shows that individuals who experience food insecurity are at a higher risk of poorer physical health, mental health issues, and developing nutrition-related chronic diseases, among other negative outcomes.
- Children who are food insecure are most at risk for developmental issues and adverse health implications which carry into adulthood.
- Adults who are food insecure are most at risk of developing chronic diseases and have higher rates of morbidity and mortality.
- Food insecure senior adults are at risk of compromised immune systems, leading to longer recovery times from sickness and higher rates of readmission after hospital stays.
All age groups experience lower cognitive function and higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The emotional effects of hunger include feeling embarrassed or stigmatized leading to a lower quality of life.
When considering the larger social determinants of health, we realize that hunger is just one of the variables in life that influences health. For the first time ever, Healthy People 2020 listed social determinants of health, including food insecurity, in the goals.
Thankfully, the Federal Nutrition Programs have proven to be extremely effective solutions to reducing and solving hunger. These programs include:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly known as food stamps,
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC),
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP),
- School Breakfast Program (SBP),
- Summer Meal Program (SFSP), and
- After School Meal Program (CACFP)
The Federal Nutrition Programs help to improve the social determinants of health. They improve economic stability of a food insecure household. Programs like SNAP and WIC provide funds specifically for the purpose of purchasing food. This can free up other finances and resources to put toward other living expenses like housing, utilities, medicine, or other healthcare. These programs can help improve the neighborhood and environment in a community. For every SNAP dollar spent in a community, it generates $1.70 in the local economy. This economic boost can help sustain or even grow neighborhoods and communities to better serve and keep its residents safe.
The programs improve the health and healthcare of a food insecure household as well. When your body is nourished, you have a stronger immune system. This means you’ll get sick less, resulting in fewer trips to the doctor or even better management of chronic diseases.
Federal Nutrition Programs are incredibly important for a comprehensive approach to end hunger. They help individuals physically, mentally, and emotionally. Individuals are able to get more food on a regular basis meaning they’re receiving more calories and more nutrients to fuel their bodies. They are able to concentrate and focus better at work and school, enhancing their performance. They have reduced stress, knowing they have food for their growing kids and family.