That’s not a typo. That’s the cost of hunger per year on the American healthcare system.1 And it’s the shocking result of what happens when we don’t put enough emphasis on fighting hunger and food insecurity.
But it doesn’t end there. The impacts of hunger can’t just be measured in dollar amounts. It’s also measured in the number of work hours lost, and reflected in the grades of hungry children. It’s lost opportunities at school and work.
Imagine the psychological toll that hunger takes on parents who can’t even afford to feed their kids and pay the rent. What do they tell their kids?
It seems impossible that in the richest country in the world, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day. The fight against hunger needs to happen in our very own neighborhoods.
To understand the urgency, understanding the roots of hunger and how deeply it affects so many aspects of society is important. Only then can we uncover practical, local solutions to fighting hunger that make a difference.
How Your Entire Community Feels the Effects of the Hungry
Food – and hunger – are greatly influenced by social contexts. We really do experience hunger as both a personal and a social condition. It’s not hard to imagine considering just how social we humans actually are.
Think about birthdays, holidays, and celebrations. How we like to catch up with friends. And how families and communities come together in times of mourning.
No matter the culture, these events always involve food.
Even our earliest social interactions as babies involved being fed and nurtured. It’s about feeding and being fed, eating together, and sharing a meal. It’s feeling both nourished and nurtured – and learning how to do that for others.
Our physiological needs – including food and water – form our fundamental layer needed to survive. In other words, we need to satisfy those basic needs first before we can meet our other, higher-level needs.
That’s why, when you’re hungry all of the time, it’s so hard to focus on your health, happiness, and success. That is the real impact that food and hunger have on our lives and our communities.
“We very literally are all in this together. There is no “us” and “them,” there is only us. And when some of us experience food insecurity or hunger, it harms and diminishes us all.”Bread for the World2
That’s why it’s so important that we continue to fight hunger in the US and adopt innovative solutions to better feed our communities.
Using Food as a Form of Preventive Medicine
In 2006, the US government started using the term “food insecurity” instead of “hunger” as a more tangible way to measure when people don’t have enough food to eat.3 We’ve all had the feeling of being hungry at one point or another. It’s a lot more relatable.
Now, imagine how hunger feels when you feel it all day every day. When it’s all you can think about, instead of being able to focus on work or school.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw food insecurity rise by 45% in the US.4 That meant that there were as many hungry Americans as live in California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois combined. It’s a big setback for our country and yet another wake-up call to action.
Healthcare spending takes up such a large chunk of government budgets that we’d be crazy to ignore the hunger issue.
Hunger, or food insecurity, results in a laundry list of health conditions, both physical and mental. And they snowball from there into chronic conditions that are costly to treat, let alone prevent.
The thought of using healthy food to help prevent health issues in the first place might seem trivial, but it’s where we need to start. Finding local solutions to fight hunger will have a very real impact on your community in so many ways.
When you empower individuals to be healthier, it benefits your entire community. And who doesn’t want that?
To Eat or to Treat? Going Hungry to Take Your Medicine
In the US, it costs about $342 per month to feed one person.5 Just before the pandemic, the monthly SNAP benefit was about $121 per person per month.6
So it’s easy to see how lower-income people who rely on SNAP still struggle to make ends meet every month. Sure, it does help, but it’s not enough.
While benefits did increase slightly because of the pandemic, the cost of food skyrocketed. This catch-22 forces millions of Americans to have to make tough decisions. And they usually end up paying a heavier price because of the health implications.
But the cost of hunger isn’t just measured by the number of empty stomachs. It’s also measured by the choices that people have to make as to whether they should skip a meal, or skip their medication.
More than a quarter of Americans don’t take their medications as prescribed for financial reasons.7 A lot of people are taking half doses, skipping doses, or not even filling their prescriptions at all.
Having to choose between food and the medicine you desperately need is a terrible thing. The irony is that these practices often result in worsening medical conditions that end up being far more expensive to treat. And so the cycle continues.
The Double-Edged Sword of Hunger
The US far outspends any other developed nation when it comes to health costs.8 But what do we have to show for that? Alarming rates of hunger and chronic disease. And millions of people for whom it’s practically impossible to climb out of the cycle of poverty.
It’s no secret that nutritious, healthy food is essential to the growth and development of an individual, and can prevent the need for costly medical care.
Our health and the food we eat are inextricably linked. And chronic food insecurity does impact our housing, education, and employment opportunities. Socioeconomic inequalities drive massive health disparities.
And that makes the cost of hunger too big to ignore.
“Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”Martin Luther King Jr., Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, March 25, 1966.
Finding Local Solutions to the Hunger Problem
The fight against hunger in America is a battle worth fighting. But, it will take solutions at all levels to do this. Helping communities that are afflicted with food insecurity are an obvious first choice for those who have dedicated themselves to ending hunger.
Because of the other socioeconomic issues closely linked to hunger (race, for example), it makes sense that if we find ways to feed the hungry, the effects that this will have will empower people in so many other ways.
They’ll feel better and healthier and do better in school and work. And that in turn helps communities, just like yours, to thrive.
Mobile farmers’ markets offer a great local solution to fighting hunger. They complement urban farms’, community gardens’, and food banks’ goals perfectly. Mobile markets make it much easier for people to access healthy food, and for organizations to provide services more effectively.
And they’re so much more than just a grocery store on wheels. They really capitalize on providing benefits to their customers. A lot of them offer 2-for-1 deals or 50% discounts for those on SNAP.
Now picture that $121 a month SNAP benefit going even further with discounts like that. It’s things like that that make a huge difference in someone’s life and health.
To discover all of the ways that mobile farmers’ markets can help feed your community and provide a practical, local solution to hunger, read more about the impact they’re having across the country right now: How Mobile Farmers’ Markets Impact Communities Across the United States.