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Hunger Impacts Georgia Businesses: Have You Asked Your Employees?

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Debra Kibbe, senior research associate at the Georgia Health Policy Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, Georgia Shape

Debra Kibbe, senior research associate at the Georgia Health Policy Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University

By Debra Kibbe, senior research associate, Georgia Health Policy Center

The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”

In Georgia, more than one in five children (21percent) live in food insecure households. The national average is 18 percent.

About one in seven Georgians (15.1 percent) don’t always know where they will find their next meal. The national average is 13 percent.

Of particular concern to those working in hunger are the children in rural Georgia where 33 percent of rural children live in poverty and may have very limited access to healthy, affordable food.

Why should Georgia businesses be concerned about hunger? Feeding America estimates more than 523,000 children in Georgia are hungry without access to the healthy food they need for growth and development. Employees who were hungry as children may not be as well prepared physically, mentally, emotionally or socially to perform effectively in the workplace. Hungry children are sick more often and are more likely to have to be hospitalized. These costs are passed along to the business community and may increase insurance costs and tax burdens.

Georgia businesses have an opportunity to make a difference in several ways:

  1. Business planning, promotion, marketing and investment strategies could be explored to identify possible solutions to Georgia’s hunger epidemic. Working with organizations such as the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Open Hand Atlanta who are feeding and teaching thousands of Georgians to be more self-sufficient every day makes good business sense.
  2. Existing supply chains and distribution channels can be used to deliver healthy food to organization’s providing food in Georgia’s high-need areas. Why not have our major delivery companies bringing food boxes to certain rural, high-poverty zip codes?
  3. Supporting infrastructure in rural areas to ensure access to healthy food is being accomplished through mobile food pantries. One western Michigan food bank obtained four beverage delivery trucks and dispensed more than 500,000 pounds of food per month in a nine-county service area.
  4. Many nonprofit service organizations could benefit by having “business partners in hunger.” Many employers are encouraging workers to give community service time. Allowing employees monthly volunteer time, not just during holidays, to teach cooking classes, work at local food pantries, and serve meals at feeding sites and soup kitchens would help many of Georgia’s nonprofit organizations expand their reach.
  5. Finally, simply providing funds to schools to feed children during breaks and holiday periods would be a giant step forward. The Georgia Department of Education School Nutrition Program, the fifth largest school nutrition program in the country, would likely welcome the opportunity to partner with Georgia businesses to fill in feeding gaps during the school year and during the summer months.

Some readers may be thinking, “How can we have such terrible hunger and high obesity rates at the same time?” These two issues are linked. Children may be getting more than enough calories but still be malnourished because of the lack of food variety and healthy food in their diet.

Georgia’s business community can play a major role in reducing hunger and increasing food security. By committing to sustained investment in healthy food access, building capacity of nonprofits—especially in rural areas— and supporting employees in working with local organizations to reduce hunger, corporate partners can ensure they will have healthy employees down the road.

Debra Kibbe is a senior research associate at the Georgia Health Policy Center in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She leads the center’s work related to food and nutrition policy, childhood obesity, and technical assistance for the Georgia SHAPE program.

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