We hear the calls of the health experts to improve our diets, get in better shape, and decrease our stress. We expect the promise for a healthy life to come quickly on the heels after making these changes, but what if you were unable to afford or access the healthy food that the experts recommend? Would that cause you stress? What if you were, or are, one of the 755,000 people who access food from a partner agency of the Atlanta Community Food Bank?
We know that people who are food insecure lack a consistent and reliable source of healthy, affordable food. This issue should concern us all, as food insecurity not only indicates that many of our neighbors don’t know where their next meal will come from, it also means there is a greater chance that their quality of life will be diminished by chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart and/or kidney disease. The onset and management of these diseases are diet sensitive and require someone to have access to healthy, affordable food, in addition to education about how to use the food to nourish the body.
Nearly a third of the people who rely on ACFB partner agencies for food are children. Children who are not well nourished have a hard time concentrating, which can negatively affect their behavior and ability to learn. Our immune systems also suffer when we do not have enough nutritious food; this leads to an increase in illnesses that causes kids to miss more school and parents to spend more of their time and money on doctor visits. The mental health of our children is also of major concern; estimates from studies in school aged children indicate that those who are food insecure are seven times more likely to have psychosocial dysfunction, and five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Over the last few years, the Food Bank has made some intentional changes to address the growing needs and health concerns of our community that go beyond filling the belly. As a part of our growing organizational strategy that focuses on community health, we have made a commitment to improve food security by diversifying our inventory to include more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve implemented a nutrition ranking system that allows our partner agencies to understand more about the foods they select, and awarded grants to partner agencies to improve their capacity to transport and store healthy, fresh food. Our staff also includes two registered dietitians who provide education to partner agency staff and clients about how to make healthy, delicious, and affordable meals.
As the needs of our clients shift, so does our response and responsibility to them. To improve the food security status, and support the health concerns of the communities we serve, there must be a collective joining of hands among local and national partners to share in the work. We are embarking on this path along with other stakeholders, but we need the collective strength, encouragement and support from all of you who are ready to see a change in the health and vitality of our community.