The latest edition of the Missouri Hunger Atlas, published by the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, reports the number of Missourians facing food insecurity has dropped to pre-Great Recessions levels. It is estimated that 865,000 Missourians are food insecure, a decline from three years ago when the issue affected 1 million Missourians. Still, access to nutritious food remains critical in many Missouri counties.
The Missouri Hunger Atlas 2019 reports nearly one in seven individuals lacked reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, with the most vulnerable populations including children and the elderly.
“Three years ago we reported that Missouri households were the hungriest they had been in decades,” said Sandy Rikoon, dean of the College of Human Environmental Sciences and co-director of the MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security. “We are happy that things have improved, yet food insecurity remains a fact of life for nearly 15% of the state’s population. Additionally, more than 275,000 Missourians experienced multiple disruptions of normal eating patterns and reduced food intake over the previous 12 months.”
Food security problems remain statewide. Persistent-poverty areas in southern Missouri continue to have the highest percentages of food insecurity; however, areas in northern Missouri are experiencing increasing levels of rural and elderly populations that are in need of food. Suburban counties, although with lower percentages of need, have some of the highest numbers of food insecure individuals in the state.
Rikoon and a host of co-authors compiled the Atlas, which charts food insecurity and hunger on a county-by-county basis. The researchers factored in participation in hunger assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), health indicators such as obesity and diabetes, and economic indicators such as food affordability, population below poverty, median household income and the unemployment rate. They also examined the percent of children living in food insecure households.
“One in six children in Missouri live in food insecure households,” said Bill McKelvey, co-author and project coordinator with the center. “Recent studies of children show food insecurity and hunger are significant predictors of chronic illness, lower school performance and developmental problems.”
Rikoon and McKelvey suggest that to end food insecurity, systemic change is necessary, including tackling poverty. The report also raises concerns about federal programs aimed at food security.
“New rules for SNAP could very well have an impact on families facing food insecurity,” Rikoon said.
The Hunger Atlas is just one example of ways MU is working on food security in Missouri. The Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security recently received a $250,000 grant from Feeding Missouri to conduct the first comprehensive, statewide study of Missouri households using food pantries since 2014. Other MU initiatives include interdisciplinary research and nutritional programming offered in all Missouri counties through MU Extension. In addition, since 2016, MU students have volunteered in eight food pantries and seven community gardens in Missouri as part of Mizzou Alternative Breaks.
“The work being done at the university on this critical issue is another example of how we are serving the state as the University for Missouri,” Rikoon said.
The 2019 Missouri Hunger Atlas is a public service of the University of Missouri and is used by many individuals and private and public agencies around the state. This is the fifth Atlas published by the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security since 2008. The 2019 Missouri Hunger Atlas is available online at: http://foodsecurity.missouri.edu/projects/missouri-hunger-atlas/.
This article is adapted from a December 10, 2019 Mizzou News release.