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Spotlight on food insecurity: Minority communities

Food insecurity is among the range of inequities facing minorities and people of color that can affect health and wellbeing over a lifetime.

September 17, 2020

Spotlight on food insecurity: Minority communities

This is the final blog in a series shining a spotlight on the issue of food insecurity and how it affects different populations in the U.S

Food insecurity is linked to a range of adverse outcomes including poor health, lower academic achievement in children, worse maternal health, and higher rates of chronic illness.

The negative results of food insecurity hurt society as a whole, and have an outsized impact on people of color. One study reports that the economic burden of food insecurity including higher health care costs and lower worker productivity results in an economic burden of more than $167.5 billion a year.1

Statistics help paint the picture of food insecurity among people of color:

  • The national average of households facing food insecurity is 11.1%. That rate is 21.2% for Blacks and 16.2% for Hispanics.2
  • The level of food insecurity in the overall population has fluctuated over the last few decades. However, the difference in food insecurity rates between people of color and whites has persisted. Food insecurity rates for Black and Hispanic households are at least twice the level of white households.3
  • One in four African American children struggles to get enough to eat each day.4

It’s clear that addressing food insecurity for people of color would have a far-reaching, long term impact on tens of millions of Americans and strengthen our country as a whole.  

The Challenges

Food insecurity rates are related to other challenges.

Poverty– As with other at-risk groups, including rural populations and older Americans, poverty is a central contributor to food insecurity for people of color. A 2018 report of poverty rates by race/ethnicity shows 9% of whites living in poverty, 19% of Hispanics, 22% of Blacks, and 24% of Native Americans.5

Disparities in hourly wages mean that people of color bring home less money than their white counterparts. White males average $21 an hour, while Black males earn $15, and Hispanic males make $14.6 Those lower incomes mean that families have less purchasing power to buy the nutritious foods that support a healthy lifestyle.

Food swamps– Previous blogs in this series have touched on the prevalence of food deserts, areas where access to affordable, nutritious food is limited. People of color who live in urban areas may also live in “food swamps,” where sources of low-quality food, including fast-food restaurants and convenience stores stocking mainly junk food, outnumber stores that sell healthy alternatives. And it’s by design. Studies show that fast-food restaurants are more likely to open in communities with higher concentrations of minorities. 7

Health – Food insecurity is a key factor in poor health, and poor health can contribute to food insecurity. This cycle is particularly acute for minorities, who are 1.5-2 times more likely to have a major chronic disease compared to whites.9 Critically, minority communities generally have less access to quality health care.

The Solutions

School meal programs – School districts around the nation run the National School Lunch Program for low-income students. The program provides low-cost or free lunches to almost 30 million children a day. It’s a start at addressing food insecurity, but studies also show that school budgets in minority communities are lower. That means they spend less per student and don’t have appropriate funding to purchase healthy food choices for their students. Meanwhile, schools in affluent neighborhoods can generally afford healthier options.10

SNAP – About 13 million African Americans used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2016. On average, participating households received $254 a month for food benefits from SNAP. Based on today’s grocery costs, that amount doesn’t go far enough for a family of four, and it can’t cover enough nutritious food to stay healthy. So, while SNAP provides some support, more help is necessary to reduce food insecurity in low-income, minority families.11  

Public-private partnerships –Around the country, private companies and public organizations are collaborating to offer unique meal solutions to combat food insecurity for at-risk populations. For instance, healthcare organizations support their vulnerable members and lower health care utilization by offering nutrition support. Mom’s Meals is an example of one of those programs. We work with health plans and government organizations, including Medicare and Medicaid, to provide daily nutrition. We ship refrigerated meals around the country and support people with chronic illness with fully prepared, condition-appropriate meals. Find out more