Food insecurity leads to US hunger issues

Brad Obeirne’s record is six days without food.

Obeirne said he has been homeless on and off for the past seven to eight years. He currently lives in a two-bedroom house with six other people who help each other financially.

Though he is not currently homeless, Obeirne still struggles with hunger.

“I’ve eaten out of dumpsters that have gotten me food poisoning,” he said.

Obeirne’s main sources of food come from governmental assistance programs and soup kitchens, such as the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Champaign.

A new study called Map the Meal Gap, which focused on hunger and food insecurity across the country, revealed that 30,370 people in Champaign County — about 15 percent of the population — struggle with hunger issues.

“The primary cause (of food insecurity) is economic insecurity,” said Cheryl Precious, director of development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. “But there are also a number of other factors that cause short-term food insecurity, such as family crises, job losses, sudden losses of income (and) medical issues.”

There are, however, a number of resources available to people struggling with hunger.

Craig Gundersen, associate professor of agricultural and consumer economics, said food banks distribute food to soup kitchens and food pantries. Also, at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, the BackPack Program provides schoolchildren with a backpack of food to share with their families, Gundersen said.

Another key resource is the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. SNAP provides qualifying low-income families and individuals with money to be spent on food.

Obeirne said he receives $200 a month from SNAP, but it does not fully cover his food costs, so he often eats at soup kitchens.

Latasha Foreman lives with Obeirne and oversees the house, often paying the bills and buying groceries, she said. With a limited income, Foreman said she has to shop for groceries based on what is on sale instead of what is nutritious.

This situation, where individuals have to choose between getting enough food and getting nutritionally adequate food, is increasingly common, Precious said.

“The sad reality is that the cheapest food out there and the most filling food out there is not the most nutritious food,” she said. “What we see happening … is a seemingly paradoxical rise in obesity and food insecurity over the past decade.”

In addition to obesity, other negative health effects associated with food insecurity include stress and depression and, in children, behavioral issues, Gundersen said.

“Food insecurity is the leading nutrition-related public health challenge in the United States,” he said. “We need to take this seriously, and it’s within our power to address food insecurity. We can eradicate hunger in the United States.”