Why Hunger is a Public Health Issue

Hunger makes you sick. Just as a healthy diet contributes to a healthy lifestyle, an unhealthy and inadequate one magnifies major health issues.

Here are 3 key facts about how food insecurity and hunger affect us all:

1. Food insecurity has many faces.

Adults and children who suffer from food insecurity aren’t in just one ZIP code, don’t live in just one kind of home, or belong to just one racial group — it affects everyone. In Kentuckiana alone, 181,000 people suffer from food insecurity. That’s almost one in every six people. Because of this, it’s often hard to identify who exactly is at risk.

Additionally, the cause of food insecurity can be different for everyone. Brian Riendeau, executive director at Dare to Care Food Bank, says that when financial stressors add up — from low income, to health care expenses, or even a car accident — food often falls victim to a tightened budget. “Are they going to pay rent and stay in their house, or are they going to buy food?” He says that healthy food, especially, takes a hit.

2. Those who are food insecure are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases.

When you’re consistently not eating healthy food, or enough food, health issues are exacerbated. Riendeau says, that in our community, “94 percent of people who get food assistance report purchasing inexpensive and unhealthy food as a budget-coping strategy.”

He continues, “That means that if they are consuming calories, they’re not the ones contributing to their health and their thriving.” While you might think that any sustenance is better than no food, consider these statistics:

  • Of the people who seek food assistance, 61 percent have high blood pressure (compared to just 29 percent nationally).
  • Of the people who seek food assistance, 36 percent suffer diabetes (compared to just nine percent nationally).
  • Of the people who seek food assistance, 52 percent report their health as being fair or poor (compared to just 9.3 percent nationally).

Riendeau says that “people who are food insecure suffer chronic health issues at a rate far higher than food secure people.” This consequence of not eating healthy foods, specifically ones that can actually address the symptoms of diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, has been something Louisville’s Dare to Care has been focused on over the past few years.

3. Food banks are working to address the issue.

For many, their only interaction with a food bank is when they run a food drive, but Dare to Care’s mission is far more complex and wide-reaching. Last year alone, they collected and distributed about 23 million pounds of food, of which, 30% was fresh fruits and vegetables. Partnering with over 200 local nonprofits, they work to get the community’s surplus food into the hands of people in need.

Recently, they’ve organized two unique programs to take their mission a step further. Their nutritional education program, Cooking Matters, puts a registered dietician and a chef out into the community to teach people how to prepare and eat healthy foods, and how they can do so on a limited budget.

Looking to specifically address the public health concern, they’ve also launched Prescriptive Pantry Program. When a pediatrician came to them looking for a way to address food insecurity from the health care system, Dare to Care saw an opportunity. Riendeau says that participating practices can “type in their patient’s address on our website and see what resources we have in their neighborhood. But they also have a pantry right on site, so families can go home with healthy grocery items to sustain and provide good health until they’re able to either access those other partners in their neighborhood or get back on their feet.”

Dare to Care’s goal is to make our community healthier by ensuring everyone has access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy and active life. If you’d like to find out how you can help Dare to Care make this mission a reality, visit DareToCare.org.