Examining the implications of hunger in the community

Bruce Ganger
Guest columnist

Many of you have responded to the first article by donating excess garden veggies. We have received some great tomatoes, okra and more. Thank you very much and keep it up.

Last week we discussed the intersection of hunger and health for individuals. This week we want to discuss community-wide implications and how these issues affect every one of us.

You rush around in the morning getting yourself, and maybe your children, ready for the day. You’re running late. You decide you’ll eat something later. 

Now it’s 10:30 a.m. and your stomach is growling and it's a distraction. It disrupts your thinking about what you are doing. You look at the clock to figure the time until your lunch break. 

Now imagine you are operating a machine or tool that requires your concentration. The distraction causes you to create an at-work accident, which results in time away from work to get medical attention and heal. The loss of income has a real impact on your family. 

Hunger impacts your focus, mood, productivity and energy and plays a huge role in employee performance and employer success.

Every day children who have not had breakfast report to school. One out of four children under 18 in Western North Carolina are food insecure and wake up not knowing when they will eat a meal. 

Teachers keep snacks in their rooms to satisfy hungry students, who struggle to concentrate on lessons and are more disruptive in the classroom. Schools now provide breakfast for children to combat this. 

There is an overwhelmingly direct correlation between in-school performance and an adequate, balanced diet, and it doesn’t stop in the classroom. Children lacking in food can deal with the effects of hunger their entire lives, both physically and emotionally. 

Our healthcare system is negatively influenced by the intersection of hunger and health in a big way, and the implications are far-reaching. 

“Eat well. Be well,” in some form, was a part of growing up for most of us. Moms encouraging us to "eat your vegetables" still rings in our ears. Those who have strayed from that axiom, regardless the circumstances, are now putting a strain on our healthcare system. 

Obesity and diabetes are at epidemic levels in WNC, at significant cost and stress to the healthcare system. Fifty percent of adults and 33 percent of children are overweight or obese. 

Of the 15 most common chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure, 14 of them can be resolved by a healthier, preferably plant-based, diet. 

We can cure ourselves.

Every dollar spent on healthy food access for someone who is food insecure saves approximately $50 in Medicaid expenses. And, if a family cannot afford food, they likely cannot afford healthcare insurance. 

Their source of primary care becomes the local emergency room at an average cost of $1,233 per visit (including all associated costs), according to a 2013 National Institute of Health study. 

Because they can’t pay for such services, the community bears those costs.

It is less expensive to cover healthy food for an entire year than it is to cover hospital costs for one day. Resolving food insecurity and hunger within a community also positively affects the entire community by improving conditions for everyone. Worker and employer productivity and success. 

Children and schools productivity and success.  Cost and system relief for the healthcare system.

Hunger reaches into our lives more than we may know. 

It is the underlying thread that weaves through so many issues that affect people in different environments and in varied life situations. And it’s something we can work together to solve.

Bruce Ganger is the executive director of Black Mountain-based nonprofit Bounty & Soul, which provides under-served populations in the community with free, healthy food and education on nutrition.