May 08, 2012
Jesslyn Chew, ChewJ@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353
By Kate McIntyre
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Congress currently is considering the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, commonly known as the “farm bill,” which would cut billions of dollars to public food assistance programs during the next decade. Michelle Kaiser, a doctoral candidate researching food insecurity at the University of Missouri School of Social Work, says the farm bill’s stricter rules for food assistance eligibility and significant reductions in benefits will affect approximately 50 million Americans struggling to meet their food needs.
The number of households with inconsistent, undependable access to food has steadily increased during the past decade as a result of the economic downturn and rise in unemployment. In addition, costs for housing, utilities, food and gas have risen. Representatives have pointed to faith-based and private hunger assistance programs to meet people’s immediate need for food, but Kaiser says this strategy could backfire because communities with more food insecurity often face food donation shortages.
“In many communities, there’s a gap between what people need and what private organizations and food pantries can provide,” Kaiser said. “We need both public and private support to fulfill people’s nutritional needs, because food is a basic human right to which everyone deserves access.”
In addition to physical hunger and malnourishment, consequences of food insecurity include additional health care costs resulting from increased susceptibility to diseases or illnesses, lost productivity at work or school, psychological effects such as depression or anxiety, and feelings of social isolation.
“Food insecurity is a complex issue involving accessibility and affordability,” Kaiser said. “When we think of food insecurity, we picture people living on the streets. We need to recognize that our coworkers, neighbors or friends could be the ones who are hungry.”
The study, “Food Coping Strategies and Health Status Among Food Pantry Users,” was funded by a grant from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Joan Hermsen, an associate professor in the Departments of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies in the College of Arts and Science, served as Kaiser’s co-principal investigator. Hermsen and Kaiser both belong to the MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security. The School of Social Work is part of the College of Human Environmental Sciences.