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According to the recent report by America’s Health Rankings (AHR) food insecurity is a social and economic condition where access to food is limited or uncertain. Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough safe, nutritious and socially acceptable food for an active, healthy and productive life. It can be cyclical, or episodic–associated with a crisis like COVID-19.

 In 2018, an estimated 37 million Americans, including 11 million children were food insecure. Food insecurity has broad effects on health due to the mental and physical stress that it places on the body.

Food Insecurity is associated with a higher probability of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, chronic pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

The AHR report goes on to note that children are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of food insecurity because their brains and bodies are still developing. Among children, food insecurity is associated with anemia, asthma, depression and anxiety, cognitive and behavioral problems as well as a higher risk for hospitalization. 

Seniors are affected by higher rates of chronic diseases, poorer general health, a three times higher prevalence of depression, and diminished capacity to maintain independence while aging.

Food insecurity is a complex problem and does not exist in isolation for low-income families. Many of the same families also struggle with issues like affordable housing, medical costs and low wages. The prevalence of food insecurity is higher among:

  • Non-Hispanic Black or Hispanic households, in which the prevalence of food insecurity is more than two times greater than non-Hispanic white households. 
  • Lower-income households (those below 185% of the poverty threshold) compared with higher-income households.  
  • Households that are headed by a single adult with no spouse compared with households headed by a married couple. 

Recent information from the Feeding America organization with relation to hunger in America noted that millions of children and families living in America face hunger and food insecurity every day. Some of the salient points noted by this organization include the following. 

  • Due to the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 18 million children.
  • According to the USDA’s latest Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, more than 35 million people in the United States struggled with hunger in 2019. 
  •  In 2018, 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food.
  • Households with children are more likely to experience food insecurity. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, more than 10 million children live in food-insecure households.
  • Every community in the country is home to families who struggle with food insecurity including rural and suburban communities.
  • Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and need to rely on their local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for support.

Food insecurity in Florida

According to data from Feeding America, approximately 3,315,500 Florida residents are considered food-insecure. Overall, Florida is ranked 10th in food insecurity and 8th in child food insecurity. Of Florida’s 67 counties, 53 have food insecurity rates that exceed 15%.

The median annual income for households served by the Feeding America network is $9,175. In our 2017 Hunger in America study, the people we serve told us about the choices they face due to limited resources.

  • 73% of food-assisted households had to choose between food and their home utilities.
  •  69% of food bank assisted households had to choose between food and transportation.
  •  Of 2.8 Million Floridians who lack access to healthy food, 800,000 are children

Addressing hunger in the Big Bend 

Prior to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, almost 100,000 of our Big Bend neighbors, including families, children and seniors, experienced hunger on a regular basis. Today, 150,000 people — almost 30% of the Big Bend population — are seeking food assistance.

“Second Harvest’s Big Bend service area has the highest level of family food insecurity in Florida, and the COVID-19 crisis has created an even greater need for food assistance in our region,” said Monique Van Pelt, CEO of Second Harvest, in a recent press release. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has left millions of families without stable employment. More than 54 million people, including 18 million children, may experience food insecurity

Leon County and the Big Bend area are putting forth a proactive effort to help address the need for food security.

Where to find food in the Big Bend

Second Harvest is scheduling weekly free food distributions in response to the increased food needs of our community during the Coronavirus crisis. For specific information go to fightinghunger.org.

Volunteering with Second Harvest: If you would like to look at Volunteering to assist Second Harvest please go to https://fightinghunger.org/volunteer/ 

For any additional questions please contact Shari Hubbard, Director of Community Relations; 850-562-3033, ext. 211. Email [email protected]

Thanks to Feeding America, America’s Health Ranking  and Second Harvest of the Big Bend for much of the content in the column.

Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 34 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Second Harvest Food Distribution Schedule

Second Harvest is scheduling weekly free food distributions in response to the increased food needs of our community during the Coronavirus crisis. All distributions are drive-through events to help ensure safety, and the health and safety of staff, volunteers and the community. Follow CDC’s social distancing recommendations, and  staff and volunteers wear protective masks, gloves and sanitize the distribution area.

Tuesday, Oct. 6:

Gadsden County

Wednesday, Oct. 7:

Leon County

Thursday, Oct. 8:

Leon County

Friday, Oct. 9:

Leon County

Wakulla County

Saturday, Oct. 10:

Leon County

Leon County

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