The systemic nature of hunger and food insecurity in the United States and around the world
It’s important to define these terms before talking about the state of hunger and food insecurity in the world today:
Food insecurity is the lack of secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal human growth and development and an active and healthy life.
Acute food insecurity is any instance of food insecurity that is severe enough to threaten lives, livelihoods, or both. These acute states can occur within a short amount of time and are often the result of sudden change.
Chronic food insecurity is the long-term or persistent inability to meet dietary energy requirements, lasting for a significant portion of time during the year. Moderate chronic food insecurity refers to a lack of consistent access to food, diminishing dietary quality, disrupting normal eating patterns, and having negative consequences on health and well-being. Severe chronic food insecurity refers to a complete lack of food, and those experiencing it will likely go hungry and go days without eating, putting their health at risk.
In 2019, 135 million people were considered acutely food insecure across 55 countries and territories, half of them in Africa. This number was the highest it’s been in four years and reflects worsening food insecurity in areas experiencing conflict-driven crises, such as extreme drought, war, and economic shocks.
Before COVID-19, these areas experiencing acute food insecurity were already in a dire situation, and they were unable to handle both the health and economic toll that COVID-19 inflicted. Poverty, lack of access to proper healthcare, and rising unemployment, combined with disrupted food movement and availability, further exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 in these particular areas.
In the United States currently, 37 million people experience hunger – approximately one in nine people – which is also the number of people living in poverty. Almost one-third of these 37 million people experience food insecurity, and half receive assistance from at least one of the major federal food assistance programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Families living in poverty may not have access to fresh, nutritious, unprocessed food, or it may be too expensive. The food they do have access to is often processed – and less expensive – contributing to the health issues pervasive in our society today, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Poverty is a root cause of hunger and is associated with lack of access to not only nutritious food, but proper healthcare, education, clothing, and shelter.
The COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the systemic nature of hunger in the United States, just as it has around the world. Unemployment soared, causing those living in poverty to struggle even more to feed their families and sustain their livelihoods. Even with surges of federal and international assistance to potentially resolve acute hunger crises, they’re Band-Aids for the larger issue: resolving root inequalities and injustices that keep people in the cycle of poverty and hunger and without access to the nutritious food they deserve.
WhyHunger’s roots and their mission, including a serendipitous connection that sparked our partnership
WhyHunger was founded in 1975 by two friends, musician Harry Chapin and radio DJ Bill Ayres. What started as a shared passion for making a difference in the world turned into a global nonprofit that has been supporting social movements and grassroots initiatives to solve the global hunger crisis for 45 years. WhyHunger’s mission is to support these critical movements and initiatives with resources rooted in justice of all kinds: social, environmental, racial, and economic. Their belief that everyone has the right to not only food, but nutritious food, is at the core of their work in the United States and around the world, empowering communities to eradicate injustices and end the cycle of poverty and hunger.
Just as the founders of WhyHunger were close friends, so are the executive director of WhyHunger, Noreen Springstead, and IIN’s CEO, Lynda Cloud. As we embarked on this partnership, we learned how meaningful it was not just in the work we’ll be doing together but also in bringing together two leaders with shared passions for health, well-being, and equality:
How did your friendship begin and how has it grown?
Lynda: Noreen and I met 30 years ago. Our families have known each other forever, and we have attended every major celebration in each other’s lives. There is literally nothing like childhood friends. Friends who can share passions, interests, and laughter and finish each other’s thoughts.
Noreen: Lynda and I share a deep connection and a lifetime of shared experiences with our families and large group of friends. We’ve forged strong bonds over music, the Jersey Shore, and our hometown experiences.
Was health and wellness something you both always shared?
Noreen: In a lot of ways, Lynda opened my eyes to cooking and preparing food with self-expression and creativity. I can remember several home-cooked meals that made me think, “Wow, I never would have thought to do that!” She’s always had a knack for food and a consciousness about healthy eating. We both prioritize wellness in our lives, and that includes not only healthy eating but physical activity. Just recently we took an eight-mile walk along the beach to momentarily break free from quarantine.
Lynda: We both have always prioritized having active lifestyles. One of my earliest memories is being on cheer squad together when we younger. We both believe living as your best self is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Through the years as working moms, we have both had to work hard to make sure we made the time for our individual health priorities and realize that in the end, it’s not always perfect but whatever you can do is okay. We thankfully had each other for support.
Are you surprised your individual journeys led you here, two companies with strong missions to better people’s health partnering together?
Lynda: We’ve both worked really hard down our respective journeys. Noreen grew up working with WhyHunger and driving their mission forward. She learned the organization from the ground up and has done incredible things since taking the helm. My journey in online learning was similar in the sense that I’ve spent my career working to build the best culture and environment to support learning and education. It’s a gift when your passion and skills intersect, and that’s what I think happened for both of us. We are so excited to work together to play a crucial role in improving health and happiness and creating a ripple effect that transforms the world.
Noreen: Lynda’s professional success has been really inspiring to me. We both drive hard toward goals and love a good challenge, so in that regard I’m not surprised we are both in powerful positions to make a difference in the face of health and hunger for people across the nation. WhyHunger’s mission of ending hunger and advancing the human right to nutritious food is a perfect match for IIN’s approach. When you can connect around a deep sense of shared values and a collective commitment to justice, it is something special. Being able to combine forces for good with such a long-time friend and know that health and wellness are at the core of both our companies is just a dream come true.
IIN x WhyHunger: kicking off our collaborative partnership with Health Coach Day 2020
IIN is working towards our mission of spreading the ripple effect of health and happiness by not only training Health Coaches but also advocating for the advancement of the Health Coach profession ever forward.
This Health Coach Day 2020 is a celebration of those efforts, the hard work accomplished by our students and graduates and continued success in improving health and well-being for people all over the world. As we aim to spread awareness and appreciation for Health Coaches on this important day, we’re focusing on three key pillars: community, education, and service.
Our key pillar of service is encompassed in our kickoff of this incredible partnership with WhyHunger, intersecting our missions to empower people and entire communities to get healthy and provide the resources needed to ignite sustainable change.
How you can get involved this Health Coach Day 2020
There are many ways to get involved – showing your appreciation for the valuable work Health Coaches do, fighting the systemic injustices that lead to hunger, and helping those in need right now:
Sign the Change.org petition to the World Health Organization (WHO) – this petition hopes to achieve acknowledgement by the WHO of the important work Health Coaches do alongside traditional healthcare professionals, contributing to the global goal of reducing chronic disease.
Donate to WhyHunger – simply make any monetary contribution you’re comfortable with, knowing it will go toward a worthy cause with an organization making a tremendous impact.
Donate to WhyHunger’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund – this fund 1) supports food providers and food justice organizations led by black communities, indigenous communities, and other communities of color; 2) connects seniors, children, and families in need of food with local free food options; 3) supports food pantries, soup kitchens, and small-scale farmers and food chain workers impacted by COVID-19 with financial assistance.
Volunteer your time validating data for WhyHunger – WhyHunger offers a free Food Finder tool created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help people find food banks, food pantries, and community centers that offer meals. Volunteers are needed to validate addresses and locations so that this tool can remain reliable and as dynamic as possible.
Volunteer your time on WhyHunger’s Hunger Hotline – due to the economic impact of COVID-19, WhyHunger’s Hunger Hotline has been overwhelmed with calls. Join a team of Hotline Advocates to help answer calls and provide callers with referrals to emergency food sites or other social services. Click here for the online advocate training session.
Read more about IIN and WhyHunger’s partnership here.