The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. An additional 17 million people have become food insecure in the United States since January 2020.
So why is fighting food insecurity important?
The first reason is COVID outcomes. The South Bronx, a county where 37% of the population is food insecure and 99% qualify for free or reduced lunches, was recently named by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation as the least healthy county in all of New York State. This widespread dearth of access to healthy foods is one of the primary reasons why rates of hospitalizations and death for COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic was so much higher in the Bronx compared to other counties. Without good nutrition, our immune systems can't fight back against COVID, so helping food insecure families increase their access to healthy foods by raising funds and increasing education is a way to directly save lives.
The second reason why stopping food insecurity is important is healthcare costs. There are estimates that an unhealthy diet accounts for 40 to 45% of health care costs for chronic cardiovascular diseases. Another study found that households with food insecurity had significantly greater estimated mean annualized healthcare expenditures in comparison to those food secure households—$6,072 versus $4,208. Fighting food insecurity is a way to prevent health problems from starting, rather than spending money on the backend.
The third reason is equal opportunity. Studies have repeatedly linked good nutrition to learning readiness, academic achievement, and decreased discipline and emotional problems. There is no way for a young boy or girl living in a food insecure family to fairly compete with a classmate who is well fed. In my opinion, equal access to healthy foods is the first and most important step to realizing equal opportunity.