There is a great connection between obesity and hunger. Not only are low-income people subject to the same dietetic issues as other Americans (such as increasing portion sizes and less active lifestyles), they also are presented with their own challenges unique to food insecure individuals.
States with the highest rates of food insecurity also have some of the highest rates of obesity in the country. This seems counter-intuitive, but obesity rates are influenced by much more than simply overeating. The following are only a few:
Limited access to healthy foods can lead to increased obesity. Areas with little access to healthy and fresh foods are called food deserts, and there are plenty of them in the United States. Often, low-income neighborhoods do not have a variety of healthy, affordable food choices. There may even be a lack of natural food sources altogether. Convenience store food is more expensive and higher in fat and calories, but in food deserts they might be the only place to buy groceries.
Even where food is not scarce, low-income people often purchase cheap, shelf-stable foods because they are dense and keep their families fuller longer. These foods are usually very high in fat and calories, and are not as healthy. High fast food consumption has been associated with higher rates of obesity, and low-income neighborhoods tend to have more fast food restaurants. They provide quick and cheap meals that are filling, but they are also not as healthy.
Low-income families do not get as much physical activity as higher income families, and there are several reasons this is often the case. First, low-income neighborhoods often do not have recreational areas because they lack the funds to build playgrounds and parks and keep them maintained. There may also be safety concerns in the neighborhood, from higher crime rates to unsafe playground equipment, and these individuals often lack money or transportation to go elsewhere to exercise. Finally, low-income individuals may also lack motivation to be physically active because of stress and higher rates of depression.
Low-income individuals are statistically more likely to be stressed than their higher income counterparts. Food insecure individuals often do not know where their next meal is coming from, or when it will be. Imagine the stress of that fact for just one day; it is something many Americans face. Stress from this kind of lifestyle can change the way your body stores and uses fat. Individuals with chronic stress store more fat and burn fewer calories. While food insecurity is a major source of stress, many other stressful situations particularly affect food insecure people, including low paying jobs, lack of health care, poor housing conditions, and high risk neighborhoods.
The USDA states that over 16 million children are food insecure in the United States. That is over 1 in 4 American children. Feeding America serves 14 million of those children. 38% of the people that Feeding America serves are under the age of 18, and almost 4 out of 5 households that receive help from Feeding America have a child under the age of 18 living with them.
Hunger's Broad Impact
Hungry children impact all aspects of our society. Not only does their health suffer, but hunger affects their educational opportunities and also has a large economic impact.
Being hungry affects a child’s ability to concentrate in class, leading to lower grades. When children are hungry, their focus is on when their next meal will be instead of their education. Hungry children have difficulties behaving properly and socializing due to irritability and lack of energy from food. They cannot adjust as well in social situations as food secure children.
Hungry children are more often ill and suffer health issues that lead to hospitalization. Being hungry as a child can alter the proper rate of growth and decrease the chances of meeting their physical development. Not only does being hungry as a child limit physical potential, but it can also negatively affect emotional and intellectual growth.
Hungry children are less likely to finish high school or attend any form of higher education, which can contribute to a lower salary over their lifetime. Those who obtain a job are less likely to meet full potential and work as effectively, leading to a decreased chance of career success. They are less competitive in the workforce, and possess fewer job-related skills. What about the summer, weekends and after school?
During the school year, over 21 million children depend on free or reduced meal prices at school to get a balanced and healthy meal. When children are not in school, they may not know where their next meal will come from. Nearly 14 million children are served through the Feeding America network via food pantries during summer or weekend food programs to serve this growing need.
In WV, 52 out of 55 counties have a higher than average senior population. In KY, 87 out of 120 counties do. This makes concentrating on seniors and their needs especially important in our area.
In 2010, 9% of the elderly lived below the poverty line. If medical expenses are taken into account, that rate jumps to 16%. If you calculate 9% of the senior population in WV and KY, at least 78,800 seniors are living in poverty.
Food insecurity for the senior population is very worrisome because seniors have special nutritional needs. Food insecurity and hunger is more difficult for seniors to face than for the general population. Beyond their already changing needs, over 80% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition that would most likely require a special diet or medication.
There may be times when a senior has to choose between their critical prescription medications or food. In fact, 30% of households with seniors that Feeding America serves reported having to choose between food and medical care, and another 35% between food and utilities.
Many of the changes that come along with age can hinder a senior’s ability to prepare and eat meals. A study from Feeding America that concentrated on food insecurity found that food insecure seniors would sometimes have the money to buy food but would not have the resources such as transportation, health problems, and functional limitations that would prevent them from being able to prepare and purchase the food. This is why we must pay careful attention to this vulnerable population.
The problem can only worsen if we don’t keep working to fight hunger. A sponsored study from the Meals on Wheels Research Foundation found that from 2001 to 2010, the number of seniors affected by hunger has risen by 78%.