County Profiles Examine Poverty and Food Needs

Many Iowans are working, but do not have adequate savings and assets. With less than three months’ savings to fall back on, their families would be in crisis if they would lose their job, have a health emergency or experience any other predicament that disrupts their income. These Iowa families are only one step away from poverty and food insecurity.

An updated series of publications from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach addresses the relationship between poverty and food needs county-by-county in Iowa. The county profiles contain data on poverty, participation in food and nutrition assistance programs, and other food-related health and economic measures. They are available for free download from the Iowa Community Indicators Program at Iowa State University,

Local leaders, decision-makers and nonprofit organizations can use the information in their county’s profile to better understand and address local food insecurity issues, said Kimberly Greder, an associate professor and extension specialist in human development and family studies at Iowa State.

“Food insecurity is the most important nutrition-related public health challenge facing the U.S. today,” said Greder, who researches food insecurity issues in Iowa and throughout the country. People who are food insecure do not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. In the U.S., approximately one out of seven households are food insecure. In Iowa, food insecurity effects one out of eight Iowa households.

A recent study of rural families across the U.S. by Greder and graduate student Kimberly Doudna found that food insecurity is directly related to anxiety, depression and withdrawal in children, as well as aggression, hyperactivity and noncompliance. These problem behaviors can lead to children having difficulty in school, depression, substance abuse and maladjustment later in life.

“Unemployment and underemployment are key factors in food insecurity. However, even when the unemployment rate decreases, food insecurity doesn’t necessarily decrease or decrease at the same rate,” Greder said.

People who have part-time jobs and low paying jobs help to decrease the unemployment rate. However, these jobs do not necessarily provide people enough income to meet their food needs, so food insecurity does not necessarily decrease, Greder said. Factors that help to reduce food insecurity include full-time employment that pays a livable wage, work supports such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and employee benefits such as child care assistance and health insurance.

The “Poverty and Food Needs Profiles” from ISU Extension and Outreach show a range of indicators related to food insecurity and health outcomes in each county in Iowa. They are updated regularly as new data become available. The profiles are prepared under the direction of Kimberly Greder, associate professor and extension specialist in the ISU Department of Human Development and Family Studies and Liesl Eathington, an assistant scientist in the ISU Department of Economics and the Iowa Community Indicators Program.

Note to media: Kimberly Greder is available for media interviews to discuss the “Poverty and Food Needs” profiles and food insecurity issues.

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