More Missourians ask, ‘Where will my next meal come from?’
Back in 2008, when Illumination first chronicled the release of the Missouri Hunger Atlas, an MU-developed publication that charts rates of food insecurity and hunger, the percentage of Missourians who faced the prospect of unmet nutritional needs stood at around 14 percent.
The situation today is worse. Parents in one of every five state households with children, say researchers working for the University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, the Hunger Atlas’ publisher, worry about whether there is sufficient food for their families.
“Many of our findings — including deeper food insecurity rates in inner cities and rural areas, and greater lack of participation in food programs in some highly populated regions near urban centers — are comparable to national trends,” says Sandy Rikoon, an MU professor of rural sociology and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security. “We also found an increase in the number of households that experience hunger in the form of reduced meal portions, skipped meals and other reductions.”
The 2013 Hunger Atlas charts hunger and food insecurity — the constant worry that one will not have enough to eat — on a county-by-county basis. As in previous years, counties with the highest percentage of need remained concentrated in the state’s south central and southeast regions. But Rikoon and his team found significant increases in St. Louis and parts of southwest and north central Missouri.
“In Missouri, 2.3 percent of the population was classified as ‘food insecure with hunger’10 years ago,” Rikoon says. “Over the past three years, that number has nearly tripled to 6.7 percent. An alarming dimension of this trend is that Missourians aren’t only concerned about having sufficient food; a higher percentage of residents are now unable to satisfy household needs through existing public and private sector programs and other strategies to acquire food.”
Hunger Atlas researchers this year also compiled data on what they term “food affordability,” the percentage of income needed to support the household’s minimum food needs. What they discovered is likewise worrying.
“Some families in Missouri would need to greatly increase their income to have enough money to purchase food,” says Rikoon. “However, this isn’t the only problem. Families with less income often have to make trade-offs between buying food and paying for other important necessities such as housing and medical expenses.”
More than $1.4 billion was spent in Missouri in 2012 to ensure that people would have enough to eat. It’s not enough, Rikoon says: “While Missouri does have a significant amount of assistance, it only covers about 40 percent of the costs of food insecurity due to things like additional health care costs, lost income, and the need for expanded special education programs. It’s also important to note that officials in other states are looking at the Missouri Hunger Atlas and using our methods to track what is happening in their local communities concerning food security.”
The 2013 Missouri Hunger Atlas is available online at foodsecurity.missouri.edu.