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How Food Insecurity Disproportionately Affects Marginalized Communities


Staff member
Dec 14, 2023
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It is common knowledge that the remnants of ethnic inequalities plague this nation. Despite the efforts of thousands of activists and their followers over the decades, inequality is still a prominent and public issue that, because of its many influential factors, lack of policy change, and drawn out economic struggles. While there are many ways in which racial injustice demonstrates itself in damaging ways across the country, the impact of poverty and its role in food insecurity is perhaps one of the most concerning.

There is a growing awareness and attention being shown by the professional medical communities that issues of health are a product of much more than just lack of access to proper healthcare or insurance. Many social factors play into the level of health in various communities such as social, economic, physical, historical, and systemic, but overall, poverty and food insecurity are the strongest determinants of health.

Not surprisingly these two points are also the cause of the most serious and costly issues in social healthcare.

What is food Insecurity?

The maintenance of sound health by the consumption of a good diet and exercise is key in the management of chronic diseases, but those persons who are on the poverty level have a much harder time gaining access to healthy foods. This is a result not just of a lack of financial resources, but of housing demographics that create what are known as food deserts.

These food deserts are housing areas and communities that, because of low economic resources, do not have easy access to food stores that carry healthy foods. Instead, people are forced to either spend what little money they have on poor quality foods high in sugar, saturated fats, salt, and preservatives that are typically all that can be found and bought at the few stores in their area. These are usually gas stations, convenience stores, or liquor stores.

Non-white persons are far more likely to suffer in food deserts. The statistically higher income status that is typical to most non ethnic groups means that those neighborhoods are four times more likely to have access to grocery stores than persons of color. Less of those stores being around means that people have to travel further to find good food.

In predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods, this means traveling over a mile more on average. For Native Americans, around 75% of all those people groups live more than a mile away from supermarkets.

Problems Associated to Race

Not surprisingly, food insecurity affects communities of color much more often than not, but it should be remembered that white people groups are not immune to these. 7% of white Americans do suffer from food insecurity, but these are typically associated with low-income and/or very rural communities. Black communities hold a national average of around nearly 22%, and Hispanic are only slightly lower at 17%. Soberingly, Native American people groups are two times as likely to experience food insecurity.

When beginning to turn to look at children and student populations, the numbers become all the more concerning. While students of every race do experience food insecurity, it is not surprising to learn that it is the highest among the same racial demographics that are typically impoverished.

Black and Hispanic students come in at high rates or 58% and 50% respectively, but indigenous groups have a staggering 60%. Food insecurity is notably higher in households with children than homes without at 14.8%. When factoring in single parent homes, the numbers rise quickly: Households with a single mother have insecurity rates of around 30% and single fathers at about 16%. Black populations of children are sadly three times as likely to suffer than white, and Hispanic are double that.

Another factor that contributes to high rates of food insecurity comes from disability factors. While there are a range of disabilities, each contributes to the general statistics. In families with adults that are receiving disability benefits, the rate of food insecurity is about 22%. In homes where the parent cannot receive any benefits, this rises to over 30%. Typically, exorbitant health care costs, lack of income, and prescription costs make it more difficult for these families to allocate enough funds for healthy food selections.

Medical Concerns

Groups who live in or near the poverty level have much higher rates of poor health. While poverty has a high correlation value to food insecurity rates, it is not the only determinant of poor health. Neighborhoods that have low incomes are lacking more than just access to healthy foods at the right stores.

There are other factors to consider like few parks, playgrounds, community facilities, and even clean, safe environments. Poor water quality and unsafe housing is common as well. Food insecurity in relation to childhood can mean any number of consequences, but some examples of how food insecurity affects children results in greater risk for obesity, tobacco use, asthma, learning disabilities, poor academics, physical developmental issues, and even emotional and behavioral issues. Adults are no exception though, diabetes numbers, heart disease, strokes, depression, and premature mortality rates are far too common in food insecure homes.

The good news is that none of this is being overlooked and there are plenty of governmental and non-profit organizations fighting to end food insecurity in America.

Photo Credits

Image by Frantisek Krejci from Pixabay

Guest Author Bio
Sarah Daren

With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.
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