This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.
Written by Jacie Farris
“We know that nearly 90 percent of client households with children are buying unhealthy food because it is affordable,” said Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry. “This is because healthy food is often more expensive, particularly in areas where healthy food access is low. Low access to healthy food is a factor in mapping food deserts.
According to Bryant, food deserts are essentially areas where there are low-income households with low access to grocery stores. According to Indiana Public Media in 2014, Indianapolis could be considered one of the worst food deserts in the United States.
“The biggest prohibiting factor to children getting healthy food is cost,” said Bryant. “Families living with limited means must stretch every dollar to buy food, pay rent and utilities and just get by. The household food budget is the essential that can be squeezed to allow other expenses to be covered, but it often means that to buy as much food as they can, it will be cheaper, unhealthy, processed food. When your choice is between a pound of apples or several boxes of macaroni and cheese for $2, it’s not hard to see why a parent would choose quantity over quality to make sure kids get fed.”
Some studies show a link between healthiness and access to food, but no definitive relationship has been established. According to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “easy access to all food, rather than lack of access to specific healthy foods, may be a more important factor in explaining increases in BMI and obesity.”
“The problem is complicated,” said Kaliah Ligon, project manager for community outreach and engagement at Indiana University Health. “I have learned that many people are not starving but are nutrient deficit, meaning that they are not consuming enough foods with high nutritional value. Affordability of healthy food is relative to your understanding of what is healthy, identification of the specific food item [and] being able to properly store it and knowing how to prepare it in a manner that retains its nutritional value and your family will enjoy.”
For individuals who are looking for assistance in obtaining food for their families, Bryant recommended the following programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): provides benefits families can use to supplement the family food budget
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): provides supplementary healthy foods to pregnant and nursing women, infants and children
- National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program: utilized at all public schools and most nonpublic schools to provide affordable meals to students, as well as reduced and free meals for qualifying children
- Child and Adult Care Food Program: provides qualifying child care providers with access to healthy meals and snacks for all children and offers reimbursement for meals for low-income children
For those suffering from food insecurity, Bryant suggested calling 211, where operators can offer information about convenient food pantries and provide prescreening for SNAP and information about WIC.
Ligon also suggested using 211, saying “community members who know children and families experiencing hunger may call 211 to learn about resources and share them with the family and/or encourage the family to contact 211. This is a sensitive area and some families may be embarrassed to share their struggles and may be very grateful for the opportunity to get help in a discrete manner.”
What else can concerned citizens do to help reduce child hunger in central Indiana?
Bryant said community members should ensure that families in need are “enrolled in nutrition assistance programs for which they are eligible,” while Ligon suggested that individuals spend time “understanding hunger and advocate to lawmakers at the local, state and federal level to bring resources (higher wage jobs, grocery stores and funds for innovative community-controlled food access models) that will eradicate hunger.”
Ligon added, “I encourage people working on hunger and healthy food access initiatives to connect directly with community members experiencing these challenges to create solutions. There is not one surefire solution; it will take multiple approaches working simultaneously to address the problem.