Good health for the hungry

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Have you given your New Year’s resolution any thought yet? Soon enough, we will be inundated with ads for weight-loss products, health club memberships, home remedies, diets and other products to encourage a healthier you.

With countless options here in Greenville for living healthy and eating healthy foods, we can overlook those people in Greenville County who cannot necessarily live healthier lifestyles. Food insecurity may be partly to blame.

Food insecurity means people don’t know where they will get their next meal, much less be able to make a healthy choice for that meal. A recent study by the Food Research and Action Center found a direct correlation between food insecurity, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This research indicates a coexistence of food insecurity and obesity in particular, when both economic and social disadvantage are factors.

Those at highest risk are women who are food insecure, as they often forfeit meals to ensure their children are nourished. People who are food insecure often chose to skip meals to make the most out of their food budget, and subsequently may overeat when they do acquire food. Prolonged patterns of eating deprivation and then overeating can lead to metabolic changes that promote fat storage.

Who cares? You should. The estimated cost of hunger to our nation is at least $167.5 billion.  Contributing factors include avoidable health care costs, lost productivity, more expensive public education due to poor education outcomes, and the cost to charities to feed people. We all benefit economically from a population that is adequately fed and healthier.

Loaves & Fishes rescued 1.8 million pounds of food in 2014. We project 1.9 million by the end of 2015. We rescue dairy, meats, produce, baked goods and prepared foods. We wondered if what we are delivering is impacting hunger.

With assistance from our Furman intern, Mariah, we surveyed 13 of our agency partners and posed the question to their clients, “How can we better serve you?” While we did not explore individual health issues, food pantry clients shared stories of diabetes, obesity and other health related problems during our visits. They understood the links of their unhealthy diet to these issues, but frankly, did not have many other options. Food costs were cited as the main reason for purchasing fewer healthy foods than they would like.

While most clients were thankful for the items they received, 96 percent were open to receiving more produce, items that were available less often.

Greenville can make an impact on food insecurity and we need to work together to do so.  Community gardens, restaurants, schools, hospitals, colleges and corporations have the potential to contribute regularly to the more effective rescue of highly nutritional food. The food benefits those who receive it, but also it’s good business acumen to donate.

Numerous shelters, soup kitchens and pantries feed the hungry; those who are the least amongst us. They do incredible work. Our food recovery system is complicated. It will take innovation and collaboration to broaden our community’s ability to rescue more highly nutritional food, so our neighbors who are food insecure can eat healthier foods that can improve their diets, potentially their health and that of all in our community.

Paulette Dunn is executive director of Loaves and Fishes, a food rescue organization. Contact her at paulette@loavesandfishesgreenville.org.

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