True Cost of Hunger panel illuminates health risks of poor nutrition

A panel at the Northern Illinois Food Bank
March 10, 2016
by Brandon Pettigrew

Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) recently hosted the panel discussion “The True Cost of Missing a Meal,” at our Geneva facility to raise awareness of the health consequences many people face due to a lack of access to nutritious food. Often times it is children who feel the longest lasting impact of food insecurity. According to Hunger in America 2014, 62% of households served by the Northern Illinois Food Bank report having to choose between paying for food and medical care. The panel, which consisted of Jessica Hager (external engagement manager of community health and nutrition at Feeding America), Kathleen Gregory (vice president of strategy and business development for Access Community Health Network), Dr. Kimberly Dilley (American Academy of Pediatrics), and Jane MacDonald (associate director of community health at Loaves & Fishes Community Services), used their experiences and expert knowledge to educate the audience about these tough choices and how NIFB and its network of food pantries can play a vital role in maintaining the health of people in need. 

MacDonald noted that a majority her neighbors facing hunger who visit Loaves & Fishes are working families with children. This holds true to Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2014 study which found that 77 percent of families served by the Feeding America network have had one member working within the past 12 months. Gregory explained how food insecurity and poor nutrition in childhood can be highly detrimental to a child’s development and future health. Food insecurity and poor nutrition can cause physical and emotional stress on the child, and as all the panelists noted, research shows how healthy childhood development can be derailed by the prolonged activation of stress in the body and brain, something commonly referred to as "toxic stress".

The panelists agreed that food insecurity should be treated as a public health issue. In order to tackle this issue, Dilley proposes that a network of partnerships between pantries, food banks and public health entities needs to be created. Hager noted that right now there is one small step pantries can take as they begin to build this network, and that is what she calls what she calls “nudges.” These are environmental cues that can subconsciously influence the decisions one is making, and in the food pantry setting, they can help to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Examples of nudges can be found on

*Brandon Pettigrew is the communications specialist for Northern Illinois Food Bank. He has been on staff for two years, working to increase outreach and community relations in the northern Illinois region around hunger and hunger-relief efforts.

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Produce & Nutrition , Illinois , Northern Illinois Food Bank

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