In October, The Huffington Post published a great article that took a deep dive into the data collected during the Feeding America Hunger in America 2014 study. By looking specifically at the trade-offs and coping strategies that Feeding America clients reported using to make ends meet, we can see how the issue of food insecurity goes so much further than just struggling to put food on the table. The research that the Feeding America network undertakes really allows us to put the story of food insecurity in context and helps guide us to new solutions. Here's the article, if you haven't read it yet:
8 Impossible Choices People Who Can't Afford Food Make Every Day by Eleanor Goldberg
Hunger in the U.S. is on the rise, with one in seven people turning to Feeding America to get help, a new report concluded.
In its recent study on the growing problem, Feeding America -- which helps people in need through its network of food banks -- underscored how hunger will never be an isolated issue.
Far too often, all isn’t solved once a struggling household gets something to eat.
With food insecurity typically comes impossible trade-offs. In order to put food on the table, low-income families have to sacrifice another basic need that no one should have to live without.
Feel Hungry or Fill up on Cheap Fatty Foods
It may seem counterintuitive, but the hungriest areas typically have the highest obesity rates.
The issue remains that unhealthy meals are considerably cheaper than protein- and nutritionally-dense options. Of those polled, nearly 79 percent said they go for the unhealthy meals so that their families will feel satiated.
In addition to increasing obesity risks, these high fat, nutritionally bereft options also contribute to heart disease, diabetes and low energy levels.
Go to the Doctor or Fill the Fridge
Even with insurance, low-income households still often face hefty health care bills due to deductibles and uncovered services.
More than half of the clients polled said they have unpaid medical bills and 66 percent reported choosing between buying food and paying for medicine and health care in the past year.
Enjoy a Meal or Water it Down to Make it Last
Sometimes even government benefits can’t stretch that far.
One-fifth of those who depend on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) said that they exhaust the month’s worth of benefits within a week.
To make what they have available last longer, 40 percent of people polled said that they water down food and beverages.
This coping strategy can present considerable risks, particularly when it comes to caring for babies.
Among food-insecure families, 27 percent reported adding water to formula when there was a limited amount, a method that can affect a baby’s developing brain and lead to cognitive, behavioral and psychological issues, according to a 2012 Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study.
Eat Food That’s Expired or Nothing at All
When supplies start to run low, many desperate people turn to eating questionable fare.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they consume food past its expiration date and 52 percent said they purchase canned foods that have been dented or damaged.
While consuming some expired foods can be perfectly fine, others present real risks.
If canned foods show signs of damage, they could contain clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that affects the nervous system and, if left untreated, could lead to muscle paralysis and death, according to the USDA.
Pay Utility Bills or Put Food on the Table
Sixty-nine percent of people surveyed said they could only afford to either pay their utility bills or buy food in the past year. And 34 percent of respondents faced this dilemma each month.
The far-reaching consequences of this impossible choice is perhaps no clearer than in Detroit.
This year alone, at least 27,000 households there have had their water services disconnected, an "unprecedented" level for the city, according to the U.N.
Because of price hikes and an increased unemployment rate, residents living below the poverty line in Detroit simply don’t have the funds to pay these bills.
"Without water, people cannot live a life with dignity," U.N. Human Rights said in a statement.
Pay for Housing or Ease Hunger Pangs
While only 5 percent of those served by Feeding America are homeless, many are hardly secure in their current housing situations.
For example, nearly one in six people polled faced an eviction or foreclosure in the past five years.
And 57 percent said that they had to choose between paying housing costs or food bills at some point during the year.
Get an Education or Eat
Struggling Americans recognize how invaluable a degree is, but they often don’t have the means to get one.
Each year, 31 percent of households reported having to choose between paying for food or education for a child or an adult.
Pay for Transportation or Some Food
For many people with limited means, the choice comes down to eating or giving up their freedom of mobility.
Of those surveyed, 67 percent said that they had to decide between having access to transportation and spending their funds on sustenance for the household, a choice that can further impede their prospects for finding work, seeking out education and buying the very food they’re struggling to afford.