Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Buy food or pay bills; that's a question that many families in America grapple with regularly. When you hear the word food insecurity who immediately comes to your mind?
For a long time hunger has been associated with extreme poverty and the homeless. But a growing lack of consistent access to nutritious meals has everyone talking.
Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as ‘a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle."
Perhaps the topic has made it to your table. It is common enough that more than likely you know someone who is struggling to obtain their basic need. This could be your neighbor or family members, or perhaps even you.
The higher rates of food insecurity in moderate to low-income households in the United States (and not just living at or below the poverty level) has made this a hot topic.
How does food insecurity lead to homelessness?
Without proper nutrition, children face challenges in learning or retaining information which can later lead to minimal opportunities for higher education and unemployment. Later in life, as adults, individuals have to choose between purchasing groceries and paying bills creating a negative impact on their living circumstances and their physical health.
Poverty and malnutrition form a vicious cycle. One that becomes intergenerational and directly affects a person's ability to succeed in school and find employment. All of which increases the likelihood that an individual will experience homelessness.
Growing up with limited resources creates a mindset and a poverty loop that is difficult to break free from.
When you add in the ever-increasing cost of living and lack of affordable housing, a growing concern in many moderate to low-income households. Economic hardship will cause a number of families to accept substandard living arrangements. Individuals will accept underemployment, turn to crime to survive, or sacrifice assets to cover immediate needs.
When individuals are living paycheck to paycheck and barely able to put food on the table: an economic crisis, a world pandemic, one tragedy or broken down vehicle could become the moment that they find themselves living on the streets.
As food insecurity rates rise, so will the homeless population. Food insecurity may not be the cause of homelessness, but those who experience it on a regular basis are at a much greater risk of becoming homeless.
Correlation Between Food and Learning
It's no secret that when a child is hungry, their ability to process and retain information is hindered.
Food insecurity often grows with the child if their needs aren't satisfied. But, It doesn't just affect their appetites.
Without access to nutritious food, children face challenges learning or retaining information. Healthy food plays an important role in giving students an advantage in the classroom. Overall diet quality improves academic performance.
The opposite is also true. Low food security leads to problems in the classroom.
The national school lunch program helps address this need during the school year and many teachers have been known to send food home with children they know have nothing to eat at home. For some children, school meals are all the nutrition they receive in a day.
Food insecurity contributes to low academic scores and impacts social skills. This will lead to communication and mental health problems later in life.
In 2020 the US Department of Agriculture reported that 13.8 million U.S. households (that's 10.5 percent) experienced food insecurity at some time during that year.
Growing up in food-insecure households can lead to minimal opportunities for higher education.
Not sure if your student is struggling with food insecurity at home?
Feeding America has listed indications to help you recognize when a child or family may need nutritional assistance. If child hunger isn't rectified early on, it could present itself as a health issue that will impact every aspect of life.
Correlation Between Food and Health
Public health is something that is on all of our minds since Covid-19 hit. While it showed up in every community it hit the homeless, communities of color, those with a pre-existing medical condition, and the extremely poor harder than those who had access to medical care, had their basic needs met, had adequate food and were living a healthy life leading up to the pandemic.
Nutrition is an advantage that those with limited income, people who live in food deserts or rural areas, many minorities and the homeless simply do not have.
The food insecure are disproportionally affected by chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Their limited access to healthy foods spill over into a lack of access to health care.
Because they can not afford prevention through nutritious food they are at higher risk for poor health outcomes. When medical issues do arrive they are unable to address them in a timely manner, and the cycle of poverty and poor health is only amplified.
Food vs. Bills
As if living paycheck to paycheck isn't hard enough, imagine having to choose between purchasing food or keeping your electricity on?
This is a choice many families make every single day. Hoping to pay just enough to keep their lights on and provide adequate nutrition for the ones they love.
"But why?" I hear you asking. "Don't we have enough food in America to feed every citizen?"
Yes. There is enough food to feed everyone. From Snap benefits to food pantries and hunger prevention programs, one would think that no one would experience food insecurity. This is a problem in America that should be solved. But hasn't been.
Why? Because solely providing food for a short period won't end food insecurity. Nutritional education, accessible long-term nutrition, and other supportive services that provide continual access to healthy food will end food insecurity in our country.
Healthy and affordable grocery stores, community gardens, and food programs that offer a variety of foods to low-income families, single parents, and those who are at a higher risk of food insecurity are needed to tackle this problem.
As a country, we keep trying to fix the symptoms of underlying issues, instead of addressing the issues that are causing the problems.
If poor nutrition leads to health problems and access to quality medical care is an issue, then doesn't it make more sense to provide federal programs that provide healthy food to the general population.
Hunger is a public health concern.
Rising Housing Cost
Tampa's housing market is one of the best (or worst) in the country, depending on which side of the river you live.
Rent costs in Tampa rose more than 20% last year, pushing those already on the brink of homelessness over the edge, leaving families homeless or falling prey to predatory lenders looking to make a quick buck.