BEYOND THE PANDEMIC: A CLOSER LOOK

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The Crusader takes a closer look The Pandemic spawned food insecurity in Cook County

By Shayla Simmons

Final of 4 Part Series

Well over a year has passed since COVID-19 was declared a global health pandemic, thus thrusting the issue of food insecurity into the spotlight. Across the world, food insecurity (defined as the lack of consistent access to adequate, healthful foods) and the subsequent issues that follow have continued to have a widespread reach. Curbing the obvious effects of the virus has only been half the battle. In the past year, the reality of hunger and the unlimited variety of those who feel its impact has been forced into the spotlight.

The face of hunger is multi-faceted. The elderly, young children, veterans, those with disabilities, individuals, families, and even college-aged students are all vulnerable parties. Anyone can find themselves experiencing food insecurity, especially during the current unprecedented economic turmoil, and when this occurs anyone can be exposed to the health risks that extreme hunger and malnutrition can cause.

In Cook County alone one in seven people will experience food insecurity in a given year, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. That is a concerning statistic considering the devastating emotional, mental, and physical health effects prolonged hunger can have on the human body.

In 2019, more than 35 million people were experiencing food insecurity, but that number jumped to 42 million during the pandemic, according to Feeding America. Feeding America also reports that there were significant racial disparities in food insecurity.

Congressman Danny Davis told the Crusader, “1-in-5 Black individuals experience it, compared to 1-in-9 white individuals who experience such insecurity.”

Hunger can be an invisible struggle felt by many and the mental toll of such a condition is severe, and unfortunately, often imperceptible. Unsurprisingly, the stress an individual undergoes trying to secure their next meal is a root cause of mental issues such as anxiety and depression.

However, in extreme cases, the lasting impact can be likened to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mothers of school-age children who are facing severe hunger are 56 percent more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD and 53 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression.

While the image of worrisome bony frames and painfully distended abdomens are synonymous as signs of hunger to the general public, a phenomenon known as the “hunger-obesity paradox” negates that concept. While there are many theories to explain the paradox, the general concept boils down to inexpensive, high calorie foods are readily available as “convenience” foods in impoverished communities.

This theory also contributes to the fact that food insecurity impacts the likelihood of contracting a chronic disease such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes. In fact, Feeding America reported that 58 percent of the households that receive food from their network have at least one member with high blood pressure and 33 percent have a member with diabetes.

Factors such as un- or under-employment, high housing costs, poverty, lack of access to food assistance programs, medical costs, and lack of access to reliable transportation are all key elements that can increase an individual’s likelihood of experiencing food insecurity. This statement is especially true when racial disparities are factored into the bottom line.

“Today, nearly 17 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, nearly 24 million are going hungry with an estimated 12 million children living in households with food insecurity, up to 40 million cannot afford to pay rent and fear eviction, and our most vulnerable communities are bearing the brunt of these twin crises,” Davis said.

While a post pandemic society is still on the horizon, the ugly truth is that food insecurity is a severe issue that will not subside with the help of a vaccine. Rather, further intervention from a federal to a grassroots level is required to ensure that no individual ever goes hungry.

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