What is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity is a lack of accessibility and affordability of food for a household. Food deserts, food waste, and economic crises all contribute to rising food insecurity rates. The people experiencing food insecurity will then have physical, mental, and emotional health consequences.
In the greater Houston area, 16.6% of households reported uncertain or limited access to nutritious food in 20201. This includes 500K+ Houstonians living in “food deserts” with little to no access to healthy food1. The USDA has classified at least ten neighborhoods as food deserts, including Second Ward, Greater Fifth Ward, East End, Galena Park, Channel view, East Houston, Aldine Westfield, Acres Homes, parts of Bellaire, Southwest Houston, Sunnyside, and Central Southwest1.
As well as the 1.1 million people in the Houston Food Bank total service area that are categorized as food-insecure, while the food bank ends up serving about 800,000 families in an average year2. Houston Food Bank’s Chief Impact Officer Nicole Lander says these numbers have doubled due to Covid-192. For example, the Houston Food Bank distributes 1 million pounds of food a day compared to 400,000 pounds of food a day pre-Covid-192. 40% of the households served by the Houston Food Bank have Type 2 diabetes or heart disease, showing inaccessibility to healthy food2.
African Americans and Latinos rates for food insecurity are higher than their representation in the general population of Texas7. 48.4% of Texas Latinos are food insecure as of January 2021, while they only make up 36.8% of the population7. 14% of African Americans in Texas are food insecure, making up 11.8% of the population7.
Impacts on Health
With more families in financial crisis, children in food-insecure homes have increased from 1 in 4 to 1 in 32. This means that without access to affordable healthy food, childhood obesity rates are likely growing, increasing their risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem3.
Food insecurity amongst adults not only impacts short-term health problems but can lead to lifelong chronic illnesses5. For example, lower nutrient intakes are associated with long-term conditions including hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and even cancer5.
According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, nearly half of adults age 50–80 who were food insecure rated their physical health as fair or poor (45%), compared to 14% of those who were food secure4. 24% of those who were food insecure reported fair or poor mental health compared to 5% of those who were food secure4. Furthermore, 43% of older adults who were food insecure rated their diets as being fair or poor quality compared to 20% of those who were food secure4.
Impacts on the World
According to Second Servings, food waste is a significant contributor to climate change6. Food is the largest component in the landfill at 21% and emits extremely potent methane gas contributing to more greenhouse gases worsening the degradation of our ozone layer, and speeding up effects of climate change (increase temperatures and water levels)6. This food waste increases food insecurity rates, because according to the World Food Programme the agricultural productivity losses due to increased temperature are estimated to induce hunger and malnutrition rates up 20 percent by 20506. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste 30-40% of the available food at the consumer and retail levels which costs our economy $218 billion each year6.
Local Organizations Working to Reduce Food Insecurity
Nonprofits like the Houston Food Bank, Interfaith of the Woodlands, Target Hunger, West Houston Assistance Ministries Food Pantry, Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry, Kids’ Meals, and Second Servings all work to get people much-needed food. Many nonprofits realize that this food can not just be any food. It helps for it to be healthy, nutritious food. For example, Second Servings saw many healthy meals go to waste at events and came up with a solution of refrigerated trucks to transport those meals to food-insecure populations6.
Food insecurity in light of the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most prevalent issues we face as a society. Food insecurity does not just affect someone that is experiencing homelessness; many families experiencing economic hardship are struggling to afford healthy food2. People need the knowledge of where to go to get food; for example, you may call your 211 to find resources near you. However, our communities must come together to fight food insecurity as a broader issue as well. Food deserts and food waste need to be eliminated or at least reduced.
1“500K+ Houstonians live in ’food deserts’ with little to no access to healthy food and the problem has worsened due to COVID-19.”
2 “Houston Food Bank: COVID-19 pandemic amplifies already high food insecurity across region.”
3 “Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences.”
4“How Food Insecurity Affects Older Adults.”
5 “Food Insecurity Is Associated with Chronic Disease among Low-Income NHANES Participants.”
6“Fighting Hunger. Ending Waste.”
7“Visualizing Food Insecurity.”