Food Insecurity and Mental Health

Food Insecurity and Mental Health

Hunger affects not just the body, but also the mind.

By Mary Beringer, Grant Writer

May is Mental Health Awareness Month It is a time to acknowledge and empathize with the millions of people who struggle with mental illness, and ultimately break the stigma associated with mental health issues. In America alone, one in five adults is living with a mental illness. While there can be a genetic component to mental health, some conditions are caused entirely by responses to personal trauma and lived experiences. One of the traumatic circumstances that can have a devastating effect on one’s mental health is food insecurity.

Research has shown again and again that food insecurity has an impact on the way the human brain operates. The constant stress and instability of not having enough of what you need to survive, and wondering where your next meal will come from, takes a significant toll on the brain and body. Additionally, there is evidence that a lack of certain nutrients plays a role in mental illnesses. No matter the cause, the results are clear: food insecurity can lead to anxiety, mood disorders, substance use, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, depression, and more. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, “mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56.5% more likely to have PTSD, and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression”. One study showed that the risk of depression due to food insecurity was higher in people over 65, as opposed to younger people. That being said,  food insecurity can have a significant impact on children, especially those in school.

Most people know how a lack of sufficient nutrients can impact a child’s growth. Unfortunately, hunger can affect young people’s mental development too. Kids need lots of energy, both to grow into healthy adults, and to participate in learning and play that will serve them well later in life. The very state of being hungry makes it hard for kids to focus on school, and can slow the development of language and motor skills. Children experiencing food insecurity also often have behavioral issues, which can sometimes result in aggression or hyperactivity. Behavioral issues mean a student will spend more time distracted from classwork, which can lead to declining school performance. According to Feeding America, “Fifty percent of children facing hunger will need to repeat a grade.” Childhood hunger can lead to depression and even suicidal ideation in later life. There is no good time to be hungry.

Mental health struggles are about more than just feeling moody or getting distracted easily. These are serious quality of life issues that can contribute to and exacerbate physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, and even death. Too frequently, the most food insecure populations have the most difficulty accessing mental health services Less than 15% of children experiencing poverty who need mental health care are actually getting it, and the statistics for adults are comparable. Income, race, and geography can all be factors that play into whether or not a person who needs mental health help will be able to receive it. Many therapists and psychiatrists only offer their services during business hours on weekdays, when many people cannot afford to take time off for these services. Moreover, waiting lists for mental health clinics are long, and even once you get in, it often takes months of steady appointments before it feels like you’re making any progress.

Unfortunately, medication and therapy cannot cure systemic societal issues. While The Foodbank, Inc. is doing what it can to get at the root cause of the problem, addressing food insecurity in the Miami Valley, there are people already feeling the effects of hunger on their mental health. If you have Medicaid, you can call the member services number on the back of your card for more information about network providers. The government organization SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) can also provide assistance.

You are never alone, and if our communities can talk openly about mental health, we can all help reduce the stigma and make it easier for people to ask for help.


Inflation Escalates Hunger

Inflation escalates hunger

As the cost of groceries increases, so does food insecurity

By Amber Wright, Marketing

Most of us have already experienced the shock of inflation. Whether it was after ringing up the usual staples at the grocery store or at the gas pump, prices have increased all around.

Inflated prices means inflated need. Many Americans are finding their normal wages cannot stretch as far as they used to. To mitigate these financial challenges, many individuals and families turn to nonprofit organizations, like food banks, to provide the services needed to supplement their income. Yet the nonprofits comprising the social safety net are subject to the same economic circumstances as individuals. For this blog, we will look at the impacts of inflation and what it means for our organization.

Several causes have been credited as contributing factors to the current economic conditions. Much discussion has centered around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and even instances of corporate profiteering. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the most obvious factor. Global shutdowns and labor shortages disrupted supply chains across the world. The Federal Stimulus package, while crucial to economic survival, caused demand to remain high while production was down. When demand outweighs supply, prices go up.

22 million jobs were cut from the U.S. economy during the pandemic. While most of those numbers have since been restored, inflation had already taken hold. Online commerce data shows consumers spent roughly $32 billion more for the same goods over the past two years.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has made its own impact on the global market. The two countries are major contributors of goods such as oil, gasoline, metals, fertilizers, wheat, corn, and soy. This disrupts countless goods and services that require any of those items for production. In addition to problems fueled by conflict, sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and other countries have further complicated matters.

Some speculate corporate greed is also playing a role. Manuel Bojorquez, a writer for CBS News, exemplified this with data gathered from Tyson, one of the four “meat giants” controlling 85% of the market. He demonstrated how the company was able to increase profits by 48% since 2021. Even after compensating for rising costs and increased wages, they are still making more money while average families struggle with inflation. Other businesses in the industry show similar results.

It is worth noting that Tyson, like many other corporations, have raised pay for workers by 20%. This is a common trend culminating in the fastest average wage increase in 15 years. The problem is that inflation still overshadows these gains, resulting in paychecks being worth nearly 2% less in terms of purchasing power.

 The White House has expressed that inflation is typical following a pandemic and that this has been seen before in American history. The unfortunate timing of the Russia-Ukraine war has exacerbated issues, but measures are being taken to control the long-term outcome. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates in order to quell economic growth, and therefore demand, until the supply is regulated. Unfortunately, it takes time for this to take effect. In the meantime, consumers can expect higher costs in the form of credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans and other forms of borrowing money.

 

Key Points of Inflation

The current Consumer Price Index shows that inflation has risen 8.5% over the last year, which is the fastest rate seen in more than four decades. In April, it was estimated to cost the average American household an extra $327 a month to maintain their standard of living. The main areas dramatically affected include necessities such as food, fuel, and materials like metal and plastic that are found in packaging of nearly all retail items.

Food costs have repeatedly risen since 2020 and it is anticipated that this trend will continue. CNBC compared the current price for household grocery staples to costs last year. These essential items have jumped in price at the following rates over the last year:

Flour and prepared flour mixes: 14.2%
Butter and margarine: 14%
Meat, poultry and fish: 13.8%
Milk: 13.3%
Eggs: 11.2%
Fresh fruits: 10.1%
Bread: 7.1%
Fresh vegetables: 5.9%

Similarly, fuel has seen an extreme increase with crude oil at a staggering 70.1% annual increase and gasoline seeing a 48% price hike. Similar trends can be found among other forms of energy with electricity costs spiking 11.1%. Raw materials are another area suffering steep upticks. While prices are continuing to fluctuate, steel has seen a 74.4% increase and lumber an increase of 79.5% in cost over the previous year.

 

What This Means for Us and the Neighbors We Serve

As we all adjust our spending to compensate for various spikes in prices, we know the people most greatly affected are those already walking a financial tightrope. Low wages, redlining, discrimination, and other root causes of poverty have prevented many individuals from surviving without some way to supplement their income, even prior to the pandemic. Inflation is intensifying the problem.

The cessation of pandemic-related assistance programs has further reduced support for many. It is reasonable to assume that inflation is knocking more families into a financial crisis without these supplemental benefits. Like most food banks, we are seeing an increase in families served at our distribution sites, and we anticipate numbers will grow when the Public Health Emergency SNAP allotments end in the months ahead.

Need for food assistance is on the rise, and so are purchasing costs.  About 65% of Feeding America food banks reported seeing a greater demand in March from the month before. While these organizations are buying the same amount of food this year compared to 2021, it is costing roughly 40% more.

Our non-profit is enduring similar trends. For example, an 8.45 oz. white milk used for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program cost us 50 cents apiece in September 2021. We were able to order 32,400 (totaling $16,200.) Just five months later in February 2022 the price increased to almost 63 cents apiece. At that price, securing the same amount increased more than $4,000.

Another example is the Honey Pepper Beef Sticks we also purchase for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program. This shelf stable, ready-to-eat source of protein is an important piece of our kid-friendly food packs. In August of 2021 we purchased 30,240 at 48 cents apiece (totaling about $14,515.) In February 2022 the price went up to 52 cents apiece, and so did our purchase for 68,544 (totaling about $35,643.) If the same amount had been purchased, it still would have cost over a thousand dollars more.

Another trend we are seeing among food banks is a decrease in donated product. Retailers are forced to tighten their spending as they are confronted with the same economic conditions. Labor shortages and supply chain issues disrupt their product flow as well. As a result, food donations are not as robust as they once were. Feeding America reported a 20% decrease in donations from food manufacturers and 45% less provision from the federal government for fiscal year 2022.

 Accommodating a greater need can require additional time and space. Anyone who has waited in our Drive Thru distribution already knows that the wait times are getting longer, but we have remained to serve every car in line. We will continue to do so, rain or shine, as long as the need exists. Supply chain issues may not afford us the ability to purchase the items we want, but we will always provide the best within our means to create a well-rounded offering of food to our partners and customers.

Our warehouse is currently in the process of expanding to store and distribute more food. The current building had already reached max capacity with a yearly distribution of nearly 18 million pounds of food each year. While this process was underway before inflation got out of hand, we will continue to invest the time and money it requires to address increased food insecurity. The more food we can store, the more we can distribute.

 We are committed to meeting the need in our community no matter what challenges we face. We have done so through a pandemic, tornados, and a county-wide water crisis, and we will do it again. We have honed the ability to pivot and adjust to the circumstances at hand. Our staff is rich with talent, compassion, and dedication, which will allow us to overcome obstacles in the path to fulfilling our mission. As we navigate the changing economic climate, we will remain firm in our efforts toward equity so that we can end hunger and its root causes. With the continued support of businesses and community members, we can weather whatever storm may lay ahead.