By Br. Thomas Clark, CFA
From the onset of COVID-19, a growing awareness about food insecurity in the United States has compelled non-profits and government entities to seek solutions to overcoming this critical issue. A considerable number of people have been forced to use food banks for the first time, which has caused their stocks to deplete rapidly. This pandemic has not only disrupted our overall economic infrastructure, but it has highlighted the prominent reality of structural racism where Black and Latino households have been overlooked and left helpless. Being a wealthy nation, American should have easily managed to deal with the issue of food insecurity appropriately.
According to the USDA, there are almost 13.5 million (10.5%) people struggling with
food insecurity, making it one of the foremost health and nutrition issues the
nation is facing. It's a critical condition that occurs due to the lack of
proper access to food resources and budgetary constraints caused by a slow
economy and rampant job loss. Although there are many ways to determine the
severity of food insecurity, some surveys conducted on a national scale have
shown that almost one-third of the population mentioned are at a severe level
of food insecurity. Food insecurity can cause many health issues since a healthy
body needs a healthy diet in order to remain strong and thrive.
Food insecurity can occur at every age and to any group
vulnerable to a lack of resources. A single pandemic has turned the tables
within months and many are now deprived of their basic needs being met. After
an in-depth consultation with agencies and policymakers, the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed some basic standards to measure
the level of food insecurity and its association with adverse health issues.
Research by sponsored by the USDA shows a correlation between food-insecurity and higher health risks.
According to the psychological theory espoused by Abraham Maslow in 1943, referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, when one suffers from insecurity in their basic needs (food, clean air, clean water, shelter, and clothes, etc.), there is a drastic negative effect on one’s ability to maintain mental, behavioral, and physical health. Likewise, those experiencing events like food insecurity, are unable, due to circumstances, to focus on their higher needs like education, secure and healthy relationship, and matters of personal growth. This results in a poverty of resources as well as a poverty in one's quality of life. This cycle keeps people poor and focused on meeting basic needs despite a lack of resources – which can lead to criminality and strain municipal and federal budgets in support of jails and prisons.
According to researcher in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, children with food insecurity are more prone to have adverse effects on their health. A child’s
body is in a constant state of growth and their bodies need more food and
nutrients to power the associated changes. Without secure access to healthy
food a child’s physical and mental growth process can be stunted. This includes the production and pruning of neurons
in the child’s brain. When brain
development is affected, a child may fall short of important milestones of growth such
as the development of critical thought.
These types of developmental delays can cause life-long struggles with
anger, domestic violence, and perpetuate cycles of poverty.
A food-insecure family, with the help of a knowledgeable counselor or social worker, can seek support from government programs. According to Feeding America, 84% of people undergoing food insecurity prefer to buy the cheapest food to meet their needs. This food tends to be unhealthy and might cause health issues in the future. The deficiency of nutrients like iron can affect learning as well personal energy levels. With access to unhealthy food, cognitive problems, aggression, anemia, asthma, and anxiety are struggles a child may face. Research carried out in the U.S has discovered that, depending upon one's age, children living in a food-insecure environment are 3 times more likely to have anemia, have a 2 times greater chance of being in poor physical condition, and are almost 2.6 times more likely to suffer from asthma.
One study, referred to as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, shows that traumas, such as food insecurity, in early life (0-17) have a profound impact on the physical and mental health of children and teens. Children undergoing these ACEs are more likely to have chronic physical and mental illness issues as these traumatic events affect children's cognitive growth. Thus, the study found that it becomes difficult for these children to handle critical situations during times of study, work, and other life challenges.
In adults, food insecurity is directly linked to their
deficits in nutrient intake which leads to many illnesses such as
depression, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, etc. If we examine the
impact of data collected about food-insecure mothers, they are twice as likely
to have mental health problems compared to a food-secure mothers. Similarly,
they are 3 times more likely to undergo oral health problems than their
at the stats for seniors, it's quite clear how food insecurity can affect anyone
and drastically deteriorate the average life expectancy. Here again, the
statistics bear out how people with a lower intake of nutrients have been found
less able to perform daily activities and more prone to depression than those
who have a healthy food intake. The
hunger rate among seniors has grown by 38% since 2001, and there is a high
chance that there will be at least 8 million food-insecure seniors by the end
We are Franciscan Friars dedicated to the vows of simplicity, fidelity, and unity. We write these articles as we are inspired. They cover a broad range of topics with an emphasis on liturgy, spirituality, and working with people in search of meaning and purpose.