New data shows more than 104,000 WNC residents are at risk of hunger

June 14, 2013

A new study finds that more than 104,000 people in MANNA FoodBank’s 16 county service area – including 38,000 children – do not always know where they will find their next meal. In all, 14.9% percent of the population in Western North Carolina struggles with hunger, according to research released this week by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization.

The findings are from Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” study, which estimates the rate of food insecurity for both the general population and, separately, for children under the age of 18. The interactive maps produced by the study provide valuable county-level data, with separate information to focus on childhood hunger. MANNA is part of the Feeding America network.

“We are particularly concerned about children who are under-nourished. The study documents that 27% of the children in Western North Carolina live with the threat of hunger. Lack of adequate nutrition in children, for even a brief period of time, can lead to permanent physical and developmental impairments, “notes Cindy Threlkeld, MANNA’s Executive Director. “Summer is an especially vulnerable time for the 61% of children in WNC who participate in the free and reduced lunch program during the school year.”

This is the third year that Feeding America has conducted the “Map the Meal Gap” study. The findings of “Map the Meal Gap” are based on statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; food price data and analysis were provided by Nielsen, a global information and measurement company.

“Most agree that food insecurity is a problem in America-and in Western North Carolina- but it’s difficult to understand the size and scope of the problem without data to inform our decision-making. The “Map the Meal Gap” effort provides this much needed data and clearly demonstrates that food insecurity is a problem in our nation, our state, and our region,” states Christopher Cooper, department head of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. “This marks the most rigorously executed study of food insecurity that I know of. Policymakers and anyone else interested in solving this problem should take the time to read and digest these data – and then decide what they can do to help improve the situation of the nearly 1/5 of North Carolina residents who are food insecure.”

Prior to the study’s first release in March 2011, food insecurity data was available only at the state level in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual report. The study further analyzes each county’s food insecure population to determine their income eligibility for federal nutrition assistance and also provides meal cost estimates for every county in the nation.