Tuesday, June 4, 2013

International Human Rights Clinic Releases Report on Food Insecurity

Last month, the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) released a report on food security in the United States that described the prevalence of the problem and recommended solutions. In 2011, 50 million people in the United States lived in “food insecure” households, meaning they could not afford adequate food for themselves or their families. Of those, 17 million people lived in households labeled “very low food security,” meaning they skipped meals, ate small meals, or even went without eating for an entire day. Food insecurity is not a new issue in the U.S., but the problem has grown increasingly worse in the midst of the nation’s economic recession. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of people who could not afford adequate food grew by roughly 14 million.

The consequences of food insecurity are devastating. Food insecurity is strongly correlated with obesity rates, as food insecure families must often decide between purchasing low-cost, unhealthy food and more expensive, healthful foods. In addition, children in food insecure households are at risk for serious health problems, struggle in school more than their peers, and are more likely to have behavior problems and need mental health counseling. Unsurprisingly, these children drop out of high school at higher rates than their peers, limiting their lifetime earning potential.

In addition to having a negative impact on individuals, food insecurity also has a high financial cost for society. In 2010, the cost of hunger (the “hunger bill”) in the U.S. was $167.5 billion, an amount that includes costs of treating illnesses related to food insecurity, impact of hunger on educational outcomes and earnings, and the cost of running charity-based emergency food programs. The Center for American Progress estimates it would cost about half of the “hunger bill” to extend federal nutrition assistance programs to include all food insecure families.

Despite the pervasiveness of the problem and its negative consequences, food assistance programs have been weakened by budget cuts across all levels of government.

U.S. Domestic Nutrition Assistance Programs (DNAPs) are operated by two federal agencies – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services (USDA-FNS) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging (HHS-AOA), as well as state and local agencies. The four main DNAPs are:

In Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States, the IHRC contends that these programs fall short in several ways, including having narrow eligibility requirements and difficult enrollment processes.

In the report, the IHRC calls for a new approach to food insecurity and recommends that the U.S. government develop a comprehensive national strategy to ensure food access and strengthen the food safety net.

Want to know how to help your community combat food insecurity? Check out these resources:

Healthy Food Financing Handbook

Summer Food Services Program

Healthy Food Access Portal

How Family Food Security Supports the Economy and Children’s Health

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