Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Hunger and Food Insecurity

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Hunger and Food Insecurity

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Approximately 30 million Americans, including 11 million children, currently experience hunger and food insecurity. Assistance programs and policies help alleviate poverty and food insecurity; however, the rate of hunger and malnutrition has increased. Recent welfare reform legislation decreases funding for assistance. Approaches are needed to achieve longterm food security in our communities. Family and consumer scientists can help through education, food-recovery programs, cost-effectiveness program assessments, and public issues education.

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 1997, 36.5 million Americans, or 13.7% of the population lived in poverty in 1996. Poverty is a high priority on the agendas of many economists and politicians; yet no one has been able to overcome the problems and obstacles associated with this social disease.

Living in poverty often means that individuals are victims of hunger (Clancy & Bowering, 1992). Living below the poverty line puts tremendous strains on a household budget, adversely affecting the ability to purchase a nutritionally adequate diet (Clancy & Bowering, 1992). Hunger and the broader issue of food security have been a public concern in the United States since our nation's inception. One of the earliest underlying goals of public policy (still in effect) is to assure an adequate supply of safe, nutritious food at reasonable cost (Voichick & Drake, 1994). Recent studies suggest at least 30 million Americans, including 11 million children, currently experience food insecurity (Wehler, Scott & Anderson, 1996).

Food security can be defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes a ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods and an ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (Hamilton et al., 1997). The complex issues surrounding food insecurity encompass physiological, social, and economic dimensions. Food, or lack of it, is a determinant of human development, health, and behavior. Its absence affects a community's economy, taxes its resources, and influences its social policies (Breglio, 1992).

Those who experience food insecurity may try to avoid hunger by decreasing the size of meals, skipping meals, or not eating any food for one or more days. When food is severely limited, these methods for avoiding hunger are ineffective (Klein, 1996).

Lack of food, and the subsequent under nutrition, affects physiological functioning in every stage of the life cycle. Most adversely affected, are the fetus, pregnant and lactating women, children, and older adults. According to the Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project (CCHIP), hungry children suffer from two to four times as many individual health problems as low-income children whose families do not experience food shortages. Only 44% of low-income children consumed at or above 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calories (USDA, 1989).

Failure to grow over time is a consequence of under nutrition. Inadequate food intake limits the ability of children to learn about the world around them (Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, 1993). When children are chronically undernourished, their bodies attempt to conserve energy by shutting down "nonessential" bodily functions, leaving energy available for vital organs and growth. If any energy remains, it can be used for social activity and cognitive development. When the body conserves energy, decreased activity levels and increased apathy soon follow. This in turn affects social interactions, inquisitiveness, and overall cognitive functioning. In comparison to nonhungry children, hungry children are more than four times as likely to suffer from fatigue; almost three times as likely to suffer from irritability; more than 12 times as likely to report dizziness; and almost three times as likely to suffer from concentration problems (Food Research and Action Center [FRAC], 1991). …

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