If you’re lucky, these are a few of the things you may think about on Thanksgiving: trying not to overeat and wondering what in the world you’re going to do with all those leftovers. But on Thanksgiving, as well as the other 364 days of the year, thousands of Georgians grapple with the opposite reality: not having enough to eat.
“We’re happy that people think about it during the holiday season when food is such a focus, but the truth is that hunger exists year-round,” said Danah Craft, executive director of the Georgia Food Bank Association.
In 2011, one in five Georgians dealt with hunger, according to data from Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity. The state has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the U.S. and outpaced the national average of 16.4 percent of food-insecure individuals.
Along with the costs to economic development and productivity, hunger’s cost to the public’s health is profound. The United Nations called hunger “perhaps the most significant public health problem facing the world today.” People who are regularly hungry or eat poor quality food are at greater risk of some of public health’s biggest threats, including diabetes, high blood pressure and even obesity.
“Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin,” Craft said. “People who are food insecure buy the most calories they can get for their money. Those are usually the processed foods, which are high in fat and sugar.”
Pregnant women who don’t have proper nutrition are at greater risk of preterm delivery and are more likely to have low birth weight babies, according to the World Health Organization. Those babies are more likely to suffer developmental delays and other physical problems, such as blindness.
Children are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of hunger. Without enough to eat, children can suffer from impaired cognitive development, weakened bones and immune systems and poor school performance and attendance. According to Feeding America’s data, more than 707,000 children in Georgia were food insecure in 2011, or about 28.8 percent of the state’s population of young people.
The goal of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is to help low-income families be healthy and productive by accessing nutritious food. DPH administers the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program for Georgia, which offers vouchers used to buy healthy foods for children ages 5 and younger, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers who qualify. The program also provides nutrition counseling and breastfeeding support to its clients.
But Craft noted that many food-insecure families don’t qualify for WIC and other government food programs because their income is too high. In 2011, more than half the people who were food insecure were above 130 percent of the federal poverty level and ineligible for food assistance programs.
“We know there are families who every week make choices between food and medicine, food and utility bills, or food and rent,” Craft said. “And it can happen to any one of us when someone loses a job or is working a minimum-wage job.”
Many of these Georgia families turn to their local food bank for help. The Georgia Food Bank Association operates seven regional food banks across the state. Craft said anyone wishing to help fight hunger this holiday season and throughout the year can donate food, funds or their time to their local food bank.
“We all can play a role in fighting hunger and helping our neighbors who need help,” she said.
For more information, visit the Georgia Food Bank Association’s website.