Exploring the intersection of hunger and health

Bruce Ganger
Guest columnist

In the first week of September, which is recognized as Hunger Action Month, I introduced the issue of hunger and food insecurity in the community.  The number of our neighbors who consistently lack access to food is staggering. Several ways that each of us can be involved in providing solutions and providing access to healthy foods were presented. 

This week we want to discuss why having access to food is not enough.

For most of us, hunger is no more an issue than walking to the kitchen and grabbing a snack. But millions of people every day are surrounded with health issues due to an empty stomach or not having access to healthy foods.

The implications of hunger stretch to countless facets of physical and mental health, and stem from a system that lacks sustainable help for those facing food insecurity.

Food insecurity is closely tied to poverty. One in five North Carolinians live below the poverty line.

Living with insufficient resources, specifically food, affects people more than one may initially think.

Of the 15 most common chronic diseases, research has proven that 14 can be resolved by eating a healthier diet and adopting healthier lifestyle practices. Health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and depression—just to name a few—are directly linked to adults and children stuck in a cycle of food insecurity.

“Lifestyle Medicine” is an emerging change to the practice of medicine with more doctors taking a “whole person” approach. They encourage increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables (versus canned or processed), but also address other social determinants of health, such as safe shelter and living environments.  

Prescribing multiple medications sometimes creates more problems than it solves, and this new approach is rapidly gaining traction through its success in individual and community health.

“Bounty & Soul is able to achieve so much more than a physician alone can do. For most patients, office visits are not enough to significantly alter lifestyle habits that are negatively impacting their life," Dr. Eric Smith, MAHEC Family Physician said. "The Bounty & Soul team is the boots on the ground that invests into patients’ lives and makes lasting changes.  For one of my patients in particular, they achieved changes that I could not do after years of efforts and might very well have saved his life.”

It is proven that hunger affects more than just physical health, it takes a drastic toll on mental health as well. Children experiencing hunger are four times more likely to need counseling, and adults struggling with food insecurity are at a greater risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Food insecurity shaves an average of four-and-a-half years off an individual’s life.  The implications to one’s quality of life due to hunger is significant but can be resolved.

The solution is more than just access to food; it’s access to and consumption of healthy, nutritious food. The kind of food that costs more at a grocery store or farmers market.  Fresh corn, not high-sodium canned corn, or fresh broccoli, not frozen with butter and salt. 

Hunger and Health are invariably interlinked and encumbers people living in poverty with a future of lower productivity and income, poorer mental health, delayed or nonexistent education achievement, and chronic disease. Hunger is not just a short-term issue, its effects echo for years to come.

To learn more about getting locally involved during Hunger Action Month or for more information on hunger and health, go to our website at