New data shows 113,520 local residents at risk of hunger

Published 8:58 am Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Staff Report


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A new study found 113,520 people in a local 17 county, three-state service area ­— including 35,320 children — do not always know where they will find their next meal.

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In all, 15.4 percent of the population in the Huntington Area Food Bank region struggles with hunger, according to research released Monday by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization.

The findings are from Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” study, which estimates the rate of food insecurity for both the general population and, separately, for children under the age of 18. The estimates are calculated at both the county and Congressional-district level for the entire U.S. HAFB is part of the Feeding America network.

“Food insecurity is one of the leading public health challenges in the United States,” said Dr. Craig Gunderson, professor of agriculture and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, an international food insecurity expert and the lead researcher of the “Map the Meal Gap” study. “We undertook this research to demonstrate the extent and prevalence of food insecurity at both the county and Congressional-district level.

This data has the potential to redefine the way service providers and policy makers address food insecurity in the communities they serve.

“We are particularly concerned about children who are under-nourished. A child who does not receive adequate nutrition may experience behavioral problems, have difficulty concentrating in school and has an increased risk of medical problems. Lack of adequate nutrition in children, for even a brief period of time, may also cause permanent physical and developmental impairments,” Gunderson said.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, more than 50 million people nationwide are food insecure.

By analyzing household income levels, the study reveals 72 percent of children at risk of hunger in western West Virginia, northeastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio are eligible for federal nutrition programs, such as free or reduced school lunch and breakfast — but 27.6 percent are not.

“No one should have to worry about where they will find their next meal,” said Tiffany Tatum, executive director of the Huntington Area Food Bank. “This study gives us specifics about hunger in our own backyard and serves as a wake-up call to everyone about the reality of hunger.”

“Map the Meal Gap 2013” also shows:

The cost of an average meal in HAFB’s service area. Here in our region the cost of an average meal is $2.53.

• The cost of an average meal relative to the national average is $2.67.

• This is the third year Feeding America has conducted the “Map the Meal Gap” study. The findings of “Map the Meal Gap” are based on statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; food price data and analysis were provided by Nielsen, a global information and measurement company providing insights into what consumers watch and buy.

The study was supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nielsen and The ConAgra Foods Foundation.

Prior to the study’s first release in March 2011, food insecurity data was only available at the state level in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual report.

The study further analyzes each county’s food insecure population to determine their income eligibility for federal nutrition assistance, and also provides meal cost estimates for every county in the nation.