Fighting Hunger: Pine Belt has food insecurity here in own backyard

By STAFF REPORTS,

Like most of the issues in our area, hunger is one that has many facets, happens to people of all ages and results in other negative health and wellness problems.

FeedingAmerican.org defines food insecurity as the USDA’s measurement of a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all members of a given household, and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

In Forrest and Lamar counties alone, almost 7,000 people are considered food insecure. Considering that many food insecure individuals don’t actually qualify for federal nutrition programs, about 40 percent of those 7,000 must rely on charitable food assistance programs.

And despite our state being the top of the list for obesity, it also holds the highest percentage of food insecure households in the nation.

Coincidence? Not exactly…

According to the Alliance Against Hunger, hungry people are 2.5 times more likely to be obese due to limited resources like fresh produce and whole grains, stretching food budgets by skipping meals and then overeating when food does become available, and little or no access to quality healthcare making them unable to receive proper diagnosis or treatment for obesity.

The consequences of hunger don’t stop there. Research shows that children who do not have adequate nutrition are more likely to experience developmental impairments, struggle in school and lack some social skills. The hunger gap widens among citizens age 60 or older, with an increase of 45 percent since 2001.

The Feeding American network reports that 63 percent of households served are forced to choose between paying for food or paying for medical care.  Should anyone have to make that choice?

Seniors who are food insecure are more likely to develop other health problems such as diabetes and hypertension. USDA.gov reports that the healthcare costs associated with malnutrition in seniors is close to $51 billion.

United Way of Southeast Mississippi is fighting to combat food insecurity in our area with partner programs like Edward’s Street Food Pantry and Extra Table. In addition, United Way partners with Christian Services to support Meals on Wheels, a program providing a hot meal to home-bound or low-income seniors in our area.

Maggie Prout, Director of Operations at Christian Services, says it’s more that just providing a meal.

“As people get older, they become less independent, have declining health and usually live on a restricted income,” said Prout. “Add to that 900 miles between them and the nearest family member. Sometimes our volunteers delivering meals are the only people these seniors will see or talk to for days at a time. That’s important interaction to have – so most of the time it’s about more than a hot meal.”

These important supplemental food programs are powered by support of volunteers and donors. Together, agencies and individuals can make sure no individual goes hungry in our community.

For more information about how to join the fight against hunger, call (601)­ 545-7141 or visit unitedwaysems.org

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