Food Insecurity

It’s taken me a while to write this post. I suffered a major bout of Imposter Syndrome – who am I to talk about this? I’m not an expert – so on and so forth. Then, is my writing good enough? Who will I offend? There is SO MUCH to cover, how can I be expected to be thorough and accurate? Who cares? Well, I do. So, after being distracted by chores, tasks, family, wrapping up my broker business, and hey! look over there! Another shiny object!! I’m back with a lot to say and I hope you’ll be interested enough to take a few minutes to read along. If you missed Part One, click on the picture to read it: Food Equity


Food is one of our basic needs, but food is much more than just nutrients. Food is a core element of our human cultural and social beliefs about what it means to nurture and be nurtured. Food plays a critical role in our health, economy, and culture and is what makes a sustainable, resilient community. Food systems (production, transformation/processing, distribution, access and consumption, waste/resource recovery) along with community planning and zoning, have disproportionately affected certain persons and communities. Many low-income and minority communities are not provided with healthy, affordable choices near enough to them to easily access. Americans have built incredible networks of systems of infrastructure that are necessary to our economy and quality of life. We have a national power grid, telecommunication systems, water systems, transportation systems and internet systems. Sadly, we haven’t updated our food system to bring it into the 21st century knowledge and needs. Food Equity and Food Insecurity impact all of us.


  • Access to SAFE & NUTRITIOUS food is considered a basic human right.
  • In the U.S. over 50 MILLION people live in POVERTY.
  • 41 MILLION people live in FOOD INSECURE homes. (meaning they have limited access-physical and economic-to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food to maintain a healthy and active life)
  • 12.9 MILLION, 1 in 5 CHILDREN are food insecure in the U.S.

Are you hungry and can’t afford food on a regular basis? Probably not. Are you thinking, “That’s not my problem, the government gives assistance to people and they misuse the funds.”  It is our problem, everyone’s problem. FOOD INEQUALITY leads to SOCIAL INEQUALITY and DISCRIMINATION. And it starts in the womb. Not convinced, let’s talk dollars and cents. What’s the cost of hunger in our country?


The annual cost of food insecurity is:

  • $130.5 billion due to illness costs linked to hunger and food insecurity.
  • $19.2 billion is the value of poor education outcomes due to poor educational outcomes and lower lifetime earning from experiencing hunger and food insecurity.
  • $17.8 billion in charitable contributions to hunger and food organizations.
  • Hunger costs $542 per year for EVERY citizen of the U.S.
  • Child hunger causes increased absenteeism, presenteeism (working while sick, affecting productivity), and turnover for employers. Children’s sick days cause parent absences from work.
  • Food insecurity creates a loss of over $19 billion in lifetime earnings due to high school absenteeism and having to repeat grades.
  • Childhood hunger costs at least $28 billion each year because poorly nourished children perform less well in school and require more long-term health care spending.
  • Workers who experienced hunger as children are less competitive in their work environment.


There is a lot of angst and opinions directed towards people on welfare; mostly centered on why and how long people use the system. This is neither the time nor space to argue and victim shame. I hope you’ll read along with an open heart and mind.

Hunger, Especially Childhood Hunger is a Health Problem

  • Hungry children are sick more often and likely to be hospitalized more often. The average pediatric hospital visit costs about $12,000.
  • Hungry children suffer growth impairment affecting them reaching their full physical potential.
  • Hungry children have developmental impairments limiting their physical, intellectual and emotional development.

Mental Health

We’re not just talking about young children here.  Maternal health during pregnancy starts the cycle. Food isn’t the only factor either. Many women become severely depressed, overwhelmed and feel ashamed at having to rely on assistance and not provide for their family. Depression in the mother is strongly related to the development of children, the care that they receive, the attachment they feel, neglect, and abuse. Children experience toxic stress when frequent and/or prolonged adversity occurs. Assessing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is becoming a part of many healthcare givers’ protocol. ACEs are identified as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, exposure to violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and having an incarcerated household member. As ACEs increase, so do serious health risks. Although food security isn’t included in assessing ACEs, you can imagine how adding poor nutrition compounds the issues.

Let’s Talk Obesity – Food Insufficiency – Quality vs. Quantity

Yes, obesity IS a hunger and food insecurity issue. The most overeaten foods in the U.S. are high calorie and nutrient poor. These foods lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, joint degeneration, and general bad health and chronic illness. Eating a diet of fast food high in unhealthy fats, carbohydrates, sugar, and carbonated soft drinks leads to a higher probability of being overweight or obese. Low income, minority neighborhoods face disproportionately high rates of obesity and chronic illness. Obesity and chronic illness lead to missed work, inability to work, high medical costs, and low self esteem. These problems were once considered middle age issues but are now being found in younger and younger people.

Studies have shown obesity has a negative impact on emotional well-being. Overweight and obese children are often made fun of and seen as underachievers. This profoundly affects their psychological and social development. Their low self-esteem can increase loneliness, sadness, nervousness, smoking, and alcohol abuse. These problems often lead to underachievement in school or attempted suicide.

Long-term Consequences of Obesity

  • A study of former welfare recipients found that morbidly obese women trying to get off welfare and back into the workforce were less likely to find employment, spent longer on welfare, and had lower monthly earnings than non-obese women.
  • A difference in weight of about 65 pounds was associated with a 9% difference in earnings. The effect of weight on earnings is similar to the effect of 1.5 years of education or 3 years of work experience on wages earned.

Frequent fast food intake, reduced odds of adequate sleep, minimal daily fruit intake, and lack of physical activity participation increase the odds of obesity and adverse health. Food insufficiency and obesity have consequences for long-term economic productivity and security of individuals.



People of color, women, and children are especially vulnerable. Of all food-insecure households, 25.1% are black households, 26.2% are Hispanic, 35.1% are households headed by single women, and 25.4% are headed by single men. Food deserts are centered in low-income, minority communities. The abundance of processed, packaged foods in stores in low-income communities instead of fresh fruit and vegetables can be looked at as a distribution issue. The longer shelf life of packaged, highly processed  “FAKE” foods made with artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives makes distribution much easier and accounts for far less spoilage for the producer, distributor and retailer. These foods cost less too so why not truck them into low-income communities?!

Earning Capacity

A person’s earning potential largely depends on their education. Hunger, leading to health problems interferes with learning deficiencies and educational attainment which reduces earning capacity. Reduced earning capacity reduces lifetime earnings and economic and social contribution. When an individual experiences this it doesn’t only affect their contribution to society, it also impacts their children’s and continues the “cycle of poverty”.


Food Insecurity is the most significant predictor of violent crime. Every 1% increase in food insecurity results in a 13% increase in violent crime. The promise of food and social acceptance is used to lure youth into gangs. Food Insecurity also contributes to mental health issues. Suffering from food insecurity, especially during childhood, significantly increases the likelihood that an individual will also suffer from poverty and unemployment later in life increasing the odds that they’ll turn to crime.  Food & Crime


Always a hot topic, food insecurity and the chronic illness and disease that goes along with it, contribute to high healthcare costs and health insurance premiums. Households with low food security incur health care expenses that are 49% higher than those who are food secure. And health care costs were 121% higher for those with very low food security. Higher costs cross a variety of health care services, including inpatient hospitalization, emergency room visits, physician services, home health care, and prescription drugs. And as food insecurity increased, so did health care costs. The U.S. continues to debate ways to contain health care costs and improve outcomes. Failing to confront health and hunger needs to be taken seriously to solve our healthcare challenges.

In closing, I’m going to leave you with this short video of slam poetry by Joshua Merchant of Youth Speaks.



The good news is that the U.S. has seen a downward trend in food insecurity . The percentage of food insecure homes fell from 14.9% in 2011 to 12.3% in 2016.  Federal nutrition programs play an important role making sure kids get enough to eat, regardless of their zip code. If Congress passes the proposed budget slashing nutrition programs we’ll see these numbers rise in every state across the nation.

Part Three will cover work that is being done across the country and action you can take in your own community.  Thanks for reading along. I’d love to hear your comments so please comment below and share with anyone you think would be interested in this topic.

In Health & Happiness,

Michele Cole



Hodgson, Kimberly, “Planning for Food Access & Community Based Systems, (2012).

Cook, John PhD, Jeng, Karen, (Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation. (2009)

Caughron, Jonathan Randel, “An Examination of Food Insecurity and Its Impact on Violent Crime in American Communities”
(2016). All Theses. 2565.

Storen, Duke, Statement: “Share Our Strength’s Duke Storen on New Food Insecurity Numbers from USDA. (2017)

Burke Harris, Nadine MD, “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity” (2018)

Jose Andres: The Power of Food,