Food insecurity exists in every community in the United States, however, people who live in rural communities face a greater risk. Sixty-three percent of all the counties in the U.S. are considered rural. Within these areas, nearly 7 million Americans are experiencing poverty. Consequently, 15% of rural households, which is nearly 3 million, are food insecure. It may seem ironic that the areas that grow much of our nation’s food are going hungry, but this is a much more complex issue than it first appears.
Rural areas differ from places such as metropolitan areas in that they are not as concentrated. Thus, finding job opportunities nearby is extremely difficult. With a lack of opportunity, individuals within rural areas are forced into poverty. Most new jobs are not being created in rural areas. Many still have not yet recovered from the recession that occurred nearly a decade ago. Additionally, most employment in rural areas is concentrated in low-wage industries. Therefore, those that do have a job are not being paid enough to afford basic necessities like food. Many are also unable to afford the expenses for additional resources. Work support services such as flexible and affordable childcare and public transpiration are not as readily available.
Along with limited access to jobs, rural areas are also faced with a dearth of food retailers. This is in part due to the fact that supermarkets are aware that they will not make a substantial profit in these areas. Instead of trying to create a profit or create more jobs, major grocers often turn their back on these areas. A region with lack of places to buy fresh, affordable food has come be known as a “food desert.” Rural shoppers are forced to rely on less nutritious options wherever they can find them, which often includes those available at gas stations and convenience stores or they face a long drive to a town with a grocery store.
Thus, individuals experiencing food insecurity are often forced to turn to food pantries. Unfortunately, these are too sparse and more spread out than in metropolitan areas. Nonetheless, people still will make the drive if they need to. One organization in rural New York went from serving 4,000 residents in 2008 to 15,000 in 2016 due to the fact that many people were driving from towns a few miles away. Food banks are trying to narrow their focus on the causes of why this is occurring—including poverty, unemployment, and bad health—in order to decrease these lines considering they cannot afford to feed every individual.
Studies show that health outcomes are worse in rural America than in urban America. Consequently, food insecurity is linked to poorer health, less exercise, and lower grades in a recent study of rural adolescents in Minnesota. Rural communities contain children with higher rates of being overweight and obese and at risk for more health problems. These health problems have already extensively affected this area. Currently, more than half of the households Feeding America serves nationally have a member with high blood pressure; a third have someone with diabetes. It is clear that there is a link between poor nutrition and poor health.
Although the total number of food insecure Americans has decreased from 50 million in 2009 to 41 million in 2016, progress has been too little and too slow.
In order to understand why this number has not decreased, it is essential to look at the measures that are trying to fix this issue. The most beneficial assistance that aids these individuals comes from federal programs. More specifically, the largest programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which serves as the first line of defense against food insecurity for millions of Americans. Other programs that help these individuals also include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, child care meals, school breakfast & lunch, after-school meals and snacks, summer food, and home-delivered meals.
These programs have proven to be successful, especially SNAP which benefits millions of Americans by lifting them above the poverty line. This includes 3.6 million people in 2016 alone. Additionally, these programs have a lasting effect on children who face hunger as well. SNAP improves food security, dietary intake, and health, especially among children along and provides positive long-term effects. Furthermore, school lunch and breakfast programs reduce hunger and obesity, lift children out of poverty, reduce school nurse visits, improve school attendance, student behavior, and educational achievement. Despite the myriad benefits, there are threats to these programs. The House Budget Committee’s fiscal year 2018 budget resolution outlines $18 billion dollars in cuts to the entitlement programs within the next decade.
Therefore, the first thing that needs to be done is to understand these unique challenges rural communities face. You can also make an impact as well. Learn how Move For Hunger can help you can host a food drive and advocate for the changes we need to see to end hunger once and for all.