AMES, Iowa — Despite living in the “bread basket of the world,” 421,000 Iowans do not always have enough food to eat. They are food insecure: they have difficulty getting nutritious, safe food in socially acceptable ways. Iowa State University (ISU) research shows food insecurity is a major concern for low-income families, particularly recent Latino immigrants.
“As Iowa gears up for the first Hunger Summit Oct. 16 during World Food Prize festivities in Des Moines, we want to make people aware that having enough food to eat is a problem facing 421,000 Iowans, not just people in the rest of the world,” according to Kimberly Greder, an ISU associate professor and ISU Extension family life state specialist involved in Iowa food insecurity research and education.
Greder and other ISU researchers and Extension staff have studied food insecurity and other family well-being indicators among low-income families in Iowa. They are in the third year of a research project examining issues related to food insecurity and housing of 31 recent Latino immigrants in Buena Vista and Tama counties. Respondents were predominantly Mexican mothers who had immigrated to the United States within the last 15 years, had children 12 years of age or younger, had incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, spoke primarily Spanish and had not completed the equivalent of high school.
Latinos comprise 2.8 percent of Iowa’s population. About one fourth of the state’s Latino immigrants are from Mexico, Greder said. “Typical Latino immigrants arrive with few or no financial resources, no credit history and a mistrust of financial institutions. As a result, they often struggle with acquiring food and housing.”
Mothers shared information and experiences related to their ability to feed and provide shelter for their families, care for and parent their children and access community resources and other social supports. The researchers also collected information related to the health and employment status of family members and the household’s income.
“Through in-depth interviewing of these mothers over time, and learning about the communities they live in and came from, we can develop a better understanding of how well Latino immigrant families are faring in Iowa, as well as the challenges they continue to face,” Greder said. “Of the families involved in this study, nearly half were food insecure. Almost all of the families reported using some form of social support — money, food or transportation — from family, friends, church or community agencies to help them get food. Households that were food insecure frequently reported getting financial and other support from family members, such as shared housing, child care or help paying bills.”
The food secure families were more aware of community resources, were more likely to receive WIC assistance and had better money management skills than the food insecure families, Greder continued.
All families reported that finding affordable housing was difficult, Greder said. Families reported doubling up and moving frequently to find housing that was less expensive, and as a result smaller and sometimes of poorer quality.
“Just about half of the food secure families owned their homes. Very few of the food insecure families were homeowners. However, the desire for home ownership is strong among Latino immigrants, even though few families in this study were likely to receive housing, energy or fuel assistance,” Greder said.
Many of the mothers in the study reported having fair or poor health, she added. Health threats included both limited access to safe and nutritious food and substandard housing.
Barriers to affordable housing influence not only a family’s ability to meet its basic need for shelter, but also limit the amount of money available for food, Greder continued. “Low-income families may find they have money for food or shelter, but not both.”
Also on the research team were ISU Extension education directors Rhonda Christensen and Franklin Albertsen; Steve Garasky, Chris Cook and Liz Ortiz from ISU Human Development and Family Studies; and two local Latino women who were hired and trained to conduct the interviews. For more information see the Iowa Food Security, Insecurity and Hunger Web site.