By David Lee
Executive Director, Feeding Wisconsin
We’ve all heard the staggering numbers before. One in 10 people in Wisconsin face hunger, and far too many hardworking families have to make tough decisions between purchasing food and paying their monthly bills. In many cases, it’s a decision that leads to poor health.
For people who are without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, the impacts can be far-reaching. Children of families struggling with hunger face higher chances of:
• repeating a grade in elementary school
• experiencing developmental impairments in areas like language and motor skills
• experiencing more social and behavioral issues.
Adults and seniors experiencing hunger face higher risks that include:
• mental health disorders
• iron deficiency and other nutritional deficiencies
• headaches, stomachaches, respiratory illnesses and hospitalizations
• more missed time at work
• more deaths from premature infants (due to poor nutrition in pregnancy)
• a greater likelihood of being unable to keep up with household responsibilities
Food insecurity affects people’s quality of life and communities as a whole. This is why the work that our network of food banks and food pantries do every day in local communities throughout our state is so important. They provide the food that people facing hunger need to be able build healthier lives and stronger communities.
But that’s only part of the puzzle. To truly solve hunger and strengthen our community, we need to work together with communities, private organizations and policymakers.
An innovative partnership with UnitedHealthcare will help us reach 200,000 more people annually across the state with healthy and nutritious food. Understanding that 90 percent of health is determined by what happens outside of clinics, UnitedHealthcare is working with community-focused organizations to broaden access to healthy food.
One of the biggest obstacles we continue to face is how to keep perishable foods fresh at our food pantries across the state. So, when UnitedHealthcare came to us to discuss hunger and how it could help, we came up with an idea to get refrigeration units into our pantries. This way, our pantries will be able to safely store, handle and distribute more of these healthy foods. Because of this program, today more than 50 food pantries throughout Wisconsin have new refrigeration units and increased access to fresh produce programs.
The health implications and impact of these programs are clear. In our 2014 Hunger Study, we found that 82 percent of people report purchasing “cheap, unhealthy food” to stretch their budget. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits “can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.”
Through innovative partnerships like this one, we are able to expand access to fresh produce for individuals and families throughout Wisconsin—giving more people a chance at better health. There is more work to be done. But together, we can do it.