The Costs of Food Insecurity

By: Dylan Rodgers

It is strange to think that as obesity related heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, 48 million people are starving without any assurance of their next meal.  Though reports have been coming from all over the country as to the percentages of people struggling to put food on the table, the study to solidify and somewhat quantify this ever growing issue has finally come out.

Donald Shepard, a professor at Massachusetts's Brandeis University, was the principle author of a report co-written by Elizabeth Setren to make this problem tangible.  According to this study, the number of hungry Americans has risen 30 percent from 2007 to 2010, a figure that continues to rise as we speak.  The total cost of the effects of such a huge percentage of hungry people in 2010, Shepard estimates, is $167.5 billion.  It has almost doubled since Shepard's 2005 report of $90 billion.

Now this figure isn't purely the cost of feeding the hungry public.  It keys in on three major facets of the food insecurity predicament:  illness, poor educational outcomes, and the costs of charity.  For instance, the study shows that hungry Americans are ill more often resulting in an additional $130.5 billion in health care costs.  Mal-nutrition related health issues are the largest facet of the three.

Poor educational outcomes, due to hungry students, costs society approximately $19.2 billion.  Bad educational outcomes in a technologically driven world can only result in devastating economic consequences.

The report also looks at the charitable funds necessary to feed the nation's hungry.  In 2010, $17.8 billion of private donations of food, money, and volunteer time on top of the federal funds for emergency food support programs was spent to feed the 48.8 million hungry Americans.

What all these figures represent is a complex issue with roots snaking their way into problems that would seem far from related.  Struggling economics leads to hunger; hunger leads to worse economics.  Viewing hunger through its impact rather than its present fact (something we tend to do too often) underlines Shepard's point that, "All Americans bear a part of these costs."

Our plan has always been to just throw more money at our problems and hopefully they'll work themselves out.  We may have to drastically change our approach to solving the problem of food insecurity, because given enough time, we may not have the funds to buy ourselves out of this one.

Photo: Andrew Magill

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