Food Insecurity & Houston
Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to food for a healthy life. Food insecurity is more than just basic hunger. Hunger is a physical sensation of discomfort, but 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.
Research into food insecurity highlights that many people do not have financial resources to meet their basic needs, affecting their physical, mental, and emotional health. Although there is a link between food insecurity and poverty, exacerbating factors such as economic crises, natural disasters or even the pandemic may cause people who are normally food secure to suddenly be at risk.
Food insecurity is not a mutually exclusive phenomenon. Families struggling with food insecurity are often affected by multiple overlapping issues including the lack of affordable housing, social isolation, chronic or acute health problems, medical bills, and low wages.
Household food security is impacted by both food accessibility and affordability. Approximately 500K Houstonians currently live in food deserts, areas where at least a third of the population lives more than a mile away from a supermarket, reducing accessibility to healthy, affordable food.
A lack of access to nutritious food paired with the ongoing economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic means childhood obesity rates are likely increasing. This will impact the health of our children for years to come, with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
30-40% of our viable food supply is wasted. This amounts to 133 billion pounds or $161 billion worth of food wasted. These numbers indicate food fit for consumption is going to waste instead of being repurposed to feed the hungry.
Vulnerability factors of food insecurity include being of a low-income background, loss of employment, race/ethnicity, and/or disability.
Consequences of Food Insecurity
Almost 1 in 4 children in Harris County are Food Insecure. Without proper nutrition, they are more likely to be hospitalized, have a higher risk of developing chronic conditions, and experience more frequent academic, behavioral, and social problems. Pediatric psychologist, Dr. Maureen Black, studies the effect food insecurity can have on children’s psyche. She proposes that household food insecurity affects children’s health and wellbeing through dual pathways: the nutritional pathway and caregiver stress.
16.3% of Harris County reported being food insecure in 2017. Food insecurity in adults not only creates short-term health problems, but it is also associated with increased risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and even cancer. It can also exacerbate poor glucose control for adults with diabetes. Adults most at risk include low-income families with children, veterans and military families, older adults, immigrants, and college students.
Nutritional Pathway: With limited resources, including money and access to grocery stores, it can be difficult to find affordable nutritious food, so families often resort to sacrificing quality to ensure they put enough food on the table. This results in diets deficient in nutrients and variety.
Caregiver Stress: The stress of not being able to adequately provide for their children doesn’t just affect caregivers, it also affects the children themselves. Several studies have linked maternal depression to negative effects on children’s physical, emotional and mental health.
These local organizations are working hard to fight food security in our communities. From repurposing surplus food to meals for kids to grocery delivery to seniors, these groups know what it means to come together and work for the common good.
Their mission is to alleviate hunger and reduce waste in the city by rescuing surplus food from businesses and conducting free same-day delivery to approved charitable meal sites.
Their mission is to end childhood hunger by delivering free healthy meals to Houston’s hungriest preschool-aged children and through collaboration provide their families with resources to help end the cycle of poverty.
Distributes food and other essentials to those in need through a network of 1,500 community partners. They also provide nutrition education, job training, health management education, and help in securing state-funded assistance.
Fights food insecurity through a stationary and mobile food pantry, a community garden, a program to feed children during school year weekends, and a program to deliver groceries to homebound senior adults.
Learn more about food insecurity in Houston and beyond with these three short videos.