Hunger and obesity may seem like far ends on the spectrum of food and nutrition, but both are symptoms of a near-epidemic problem in the US: food insecurity and malnutrition. Hunger’s victims suffer from the inability to provide sufficient food for themselves or their family; and a substantial group of the Americans now considered obese are either children, come from low-income families, or both. This week, at a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress, representatives from the private sector, public sector, and nonprofit sector shared thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of hunger in the US.
The statistics are staggering. After the “great recession” of 2008, the number of Americans living in food insecure households jumped to nearly 50 million, and over 16 million of those are children under age 18. In addition, one in three children is considered obese today, and that number increases to nearly half of all children living in poverty. On the other hand, programs that have proven to be effective on the front lines of ensuring food security for Americans falling into poverty (including school lunch programs, SNAP, and WIC) are facing intense scrutiny and potential cuts in upcoming budget discussions.
Fortunately, there are also some great examples of best practices and cross-sector collaborations making headway on not only alleviating hunger today, but attacking its root cause (poverty), of which malnutrition is only a symptom. Organizations like Share Our Strength are disproving the myth that healthy food is too expensive for lower-income families. This perception, and the all-too-real occurrence of food deserts across the county, highlight why children living in poverty are disproportionately like to be overweight or obese, as compared to children in middle- or higher-income families.
In the Greater Washington area, nonprofits like Brainfood and FRESHFARM Markets also work to make fresh, healthy, and nutritious food available to all – regardless of income. Brainfood is a non-profit youth development organization that uses food as a tool to build life skills and promotes healthy living in a fun and safe environment. A majority of the students involved with Brainfood struggle with poverty, violence, and a school system that fails to meet their needs. Through Brainfood’s programs, students gain practical cooking skills, an introduction to the food industry, a framework for nutritious eating, and leadership experience that prepares them to make a difference in their community.
FRESHFARM Markets is both a collection of farmer’s markets in the Chesapeake Bay region, as well as a voice advocating on behalf of farmers and the right to fresh, local food. They offer four different programs that help low-income people buy healthy foods in DC and Maryland markets — accepting SNAP (EBT/Foods Stamps), WIC, and SFMNP vouchers, and offering an incentive Matching Dollars program for those vouchers.
These are only two examples among the many organizations working to relieve hunger in our community — from Capital Area Food Bank, which distributes 33 million pounds of food every year, to local food pantries like Arlington Food Assistance Center, which serves 1,600 families a week. For more information on Catalogue charities addressing hunger and poverty in your community, check out the online catalogue here, and learn about ways that you can make a difference as a donor or volunteer.