Access to sufficient healthy food at all times is not a guarantee for some households in Dane County.
Food insecurity, when food access is insufficient or uncertain for at least one person in the household at some point in the year, is a day-to-day reality for nearly 12 percent of all people and 17.5 percent of children in Dane County, according to a report from Public Health Madison & Dane County released Tuesday.
“Food insecurity is a significant public health issue in our county,” Nick Heckman, Food Security Policy Analyst at PHMDC said in a statement.
Further, the report shows that one in three black, Hispanic and single-parent households are food insecure compared to one out of five white households. Households with disabled individuals and those that are below 100 percent of the federal poverty level are also more likely to experience food insecurity.
Low wages, limited access to stores with healthy food, expensive housing and childcare costs mean many families struggle to keep enough food on the table.
Across the state, over one in ten households, or over a quarter million Wisconsin households, are characterized as food insecure, according to the USDA. Another measure estimates 12.4 percent of all people and 20.4 percent of all children in the state as food insecure.
According to the report, the rate of food insecurity in the state remains higher than it was prior to the recession in 2008.
Public Health outlined four areas that if supported, can ensure community food security. These include economic security, access to affordable and nutritious food, nutrition assistance programs and an emergency food system such as food banks, food pantries, meal sites and shelters.
The health department is also partnering with several community groups to boost community security, such as free summer meal sites through the Madison Metropolitan School District.
When children do not know when or where their next meal will be not only suffers nutritionally but also physically, cognitively, socially and academically.
The number of students who qualify for free and reduced priced meals can provide insight into the area’s food security. In Dane County, 34 percent of all students are eligible for free and reduced priced meals and in the Madison Metropolitan School District, this number jumps to 55 percent.
“Hunger can decrease a child’s ability to focus and perform in school,” Heckman said in the statement. “Food insecurity can also increase risk for other health problems, including diabetes and obesity because high-calorie, processed, and nutrition-deficient foods are all that many in our community can access or afford.”
A new Willy Street Co-op on the north side that accepts WIC benefits and an expansion of the double dollars program at farmers’ markets are also aimed at improving food security.