- On September 28, 2022 the Biden administration hosted the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in 50 years.
- The president aims to completely eliminate food insecurity by 2030.
- Food insecurity has been tied to poor physical health, focus, and mental well-being.
Across the United States, 33.8 million people experienced food insecurity last year. In 6.2 percent of households with children, neither the children nor the adults had consistent, reliable access to food. At the same time, an estimated 30% to 40% of the food supply goes to waste.
It should go without saying that being without food can be detrimental to a person’s physical and mental well-being—and is something no person should have to experience.
With this in mind, on September 28, 2022 the Biden administration held the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the first of its kind in over 50 years. President Biden has set forth a goal to end hunger nationwide by 2030 through a plan including a collaboration of legislation, partnerships, and adjustments to current regulations.
Jennifer Russomanno, DrPH, MPH, CHES, an assistant professor of practice for the University of Tennessee’s Online Master of Public Health program.
Food insecurity is multi-dimensional, and it will take changes at a policy level to really make a difference in our nation’s food insecurity rate.
“Food insecurity is multi-dimensional, and it will take changes at a policy level to really make a difference in our nation’s food insecurity rates,” explains Jennifer Russomanno, DrPH, MPH, CHES, an assistant professor of practice for the University of Tennessee’s Online Master of Public Health program.
Planned Course of Action
The five pillars introduced to aid in this goal are:
- Improve Food Access and Affordability
- Integrate Nutrition and Health
- Empower All Consumers to Make and Have Access to Healthy Choices
- Support Physical Activity for All
- Enhance Nutrition and Food Security Research
Can These Goals Ease The Burden of Our National Mental Health Crisis?
If successful, this shift in access to nutritious foods should reduce not only hunger but also its additional negative consequences. One significant component of this is poor mental health.
“Chronic stress and anxiety often can follow when an individual is always wondering where their next meal will come from. Studies also show that a lack of nutritious meals, specifically for growing children, can also lead to both mental and physical health issues,” says Erin Barger, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.
Barger continues, “The social aspect and potential embarrassment people face when dealing with food insecurity can also have a negative impact on one’s mental health.” No one should be made to feel embarrassed for not having access to food due to a system that has failed them and so many others, yet that doesn’t mean people don’t feel it.
A 2021 study from the Journal of American College Health investigated how food insecurity impacted a group of college students. Responses included feeling sick from hunger while trying to take exams, an inability to focus or walk to class, and anxiety about both where their next meal was coming from and spending too much money on food.
For younger children, Russomanno explains that insufficient access to food can also minimize focus in school, as well as lead to cognitive delays and disabilities.
Another study from BMC Public Health conducted during the pandemic found food insecurity increased the risk of higher anxiety by 257% and a 253% additional risk of depression.
Erin Barger, president of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia
Chronic stress and anxiety often can follow when an individual is always wondering where their next meal will come from.
Despite studies such as these demonstrating the link between food insecurity, poor mental health, and additional social issues, they are all often looked at separately, ignoring the intertwine root causes, expresses Debbie DePoala, the senior director of communications at WhyHunger.
“We cannot end hunger without concrete steps to address racial, economic, and social injustice at its roots,” she says. “Meeting immediate needs is critical, but long-term change takes a transformation of the systems, policies, and institutions that keep people poor and oppressed,” says DePoala.
Advice For Mitigating Food Insecurity
No one should go without food, and, as mentioned previously, extensive structural changes are needed to ensure everyone is food secure. Currently, food can often be the last priority due to unavoidable fixed costs, such as rent, electricity, and car payments, explains Russomanno. While not a solution by any means, the food security experts interviewed have a few tips for best management.
“The biggest piece of advice is, please don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says DePoala. “There is an unfair and unjust stigma that is far too often associated with needing support.”
Additionally, Russomanno recommends trying some of the following options when possible:
- Utilize community-based resources, such as food pantries and charitable organizations
- Stock up on non-perishable food staples, and buy in bulk when possible
- Search local grocers for weekly specials, such as a two-for-one or a lower price on a non-perishable item
- Investigate if there are any benefit programs that you might qualify for, as income limits can change over time
What This Means For You
Whether you need help accessing food or would like to aid in reducing food insecurity, here are resources to explore:
- Feeding America
- CDC Provided Resources, such as the USDA Hunger Hotline: 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) for Spanish. Open 7 am to 10 pm EST, Monday to Friday.
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