What’s the Difference Between Hunger and the Effects of Food Insecurity?
For most of us, when we’re hungry, we simply reach into the pantry or fridge and grab our favorite snack. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy and nutritious options to pick and choose based on what our bodies are craving. This is what it means to be food secure, that you have access to enough safe, nutritious food.
But for an estimated 2 billion people around the world, this is not the case. Even right here in the US, more than 54 million people are expected to have experienced food insecurity in 2020 alone. The effects of food insecurity go far beyond an empty stomach — it can impact many aspects of a person’s life, and for children, those impacts could last a lifetime.
So, What’s the Difference Between Hunger and the Effects of Food Insecurity?
Hunger speaks to the short-term need and feeling of discomfort when your body needs to eat. Food insecurity speaks to the long-term effects of going without consistent, healthy food. Simply put, you feel hunger in the moment. Food insecurity is when you don’t always have access to enough nutritious food.
Those who face long-term food insecurity can face the unknown daily: they may not know when they’ll get their next meal or where it’ll come from, and their hunger is often accompanied by worries like, “When will I eat next?,” or, for some families, “How am I going to feed my child?”
The effects of food insecurity go beyond meals. For many facing food insecurity, they will be facing other challenges too. When someone is food insecure they may have to sacrifice other basic needs just to be able to get their next meal on the table, like choosing between groceries, taking their child to the doctor, or keeping the lights on.
Internationally, it’s estimated that around 690 million people are facing hunger, driven by economic factors, including the effects of COVID, and exacerbated by natural disasters — like a flood, drought, and insect plagues — which can cause food shortages and high prices. Food insecurity can result in low birth weight, inability for mothers to breastfeed, and long- and short-term impact on kids, from poor brain and body development or missing school -- limiting future opportunity. In addition, undernutrition can create greater risks from other diseases, including measles and malaria.
The numbers here at home are staggering too. 1 in 4 children that’s around 18 million — are expected to have faced food insecurity in 2020. While counties with the highest rates of unemployment and poverty rates face the highest rates of child food insecurity, it affects families in every county in the country, whether talking about a small town or big cities.
For many families, food insecurity isn’t a permanent state: some rely on food banks to get through the end of the month before their next paycheck, while others may struggle to support their families during a slow time at work or while managing an unexpected expense like a medical bill or car repair.
Acute food insecurity levels were already at record highs around the world before COVID-19 changed the landscape of our reality, and food insecurity is now affecting many more families due to the widespread economic impact of the pandemic. According to a study done by Northwestern, researchers estimate that food insecurity in the US has doubled overall and tripled among households with children.
What are the effects of food insecurity and hunger?
Food insecurity can create a range of long and short-term impacts, especially for children.
One of the effects of food insecurity can mean having to eat whatever is easiest to access to prepare or is the cheapest. This could result in a greater chance of obesity and health issues that can persist well into adulthood.
Children also need nutritious meals to focus on schoolwork, to allow them to reach their full potential. Imagine trying to get through a workday on an empty stomach. If children are running on empty, their brains and bodies will suffer. Studies show that food insecurity leads to lower test scores and that if children have access to consistent, nutritious meals, they’re able to perform better and are more likely to flourish in and out of the classroom.
In some countries around the world, the terrifying reality is that food insecurity can lead to malnutrition — meaning the body is not getting enough nutrients to sustain itself — which can threaten a child’s survival. Malnutrition can prevent children's brains and bodies from fully developing, impacting their physical and cognitive skills for the rest of their lives, and can even result in stunting (lower than average height) and wasting (lower than average weight for height). Tragically, approximately 45% of global under-five child deaths are linked to malnutrition.
What Can I Do?
Reading and sharing this blog on this key issue is a huge step in the fight against food insecurity and child hunger. Spreading the word and educating yourself and others, combined with donating to support on the ground efforts, can help create a lasting impact.
As a part of Red Nose Day’s commitment to keeping children safe, healthy, and educated, the Full Plate Project was created to help address the critical issues of food insecurity, hunger, and its surrounding effects. The Full Plate Project helps bring this issue into the spotlight so, together, we can work to stop it.
Especially around the holidays, a time of year that focuses on nourishment and giving, we’re working to break the cycle of and effects of food insecurity so vulnerable families have hope, opportunity, and can look forward to sustainable change.
In partnership with our grantee partners, your donations go beyond providing nutritious meals. Working closely with our partners Action Against Hunger, The Ali Forney Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, The Chicago Community Trust, and Social Bite, together, we’re also addressing long-term needs through programs that treat malnutrition and foster behavioral change to create more equitable and resilient food systems.
You can help children and families facing hunger this holiday season.
A gift of any size can help provide a nourishing meal for a child urgently in need. The Full Plate Project by Red Nose Day ensures your donations go where the need is greatest and helps keep children safe and healthy — all through the holidays, and beyond.
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