Myths About Hunger, Obesity and SNAP

A big part of my job as a development professional is going out into the community and talking with people about the work of Roadrunner and the people we serve.  When I am out doing these talks, I often play the part of presenter and myth buster as there are so many myths when it comes to hunger, why it exists and who is hungry. The face of a hungry person and the reason people struggle with hunger are surprising to many.  I wanted to take some time to write about three common myths regarding our work and give you the facts.

Myth: Most of the people experiencing hunger are homeless.  Fact: In the past the face of hunger was easily associated with a homeless individual, perhaps a man or woman standing on a street corner with a sign that reads “Will work for Food.”  In reality, the homeless population accounts for a very small percentage of the nearly 40,000 people we serve weekly, only about 8%. This means that the remaining 92% of the people we serve are living in homes or an apartment. They pay mortgages or rent along with their other monthly expenses, but they don’t have the resources to make ends meet.  A big majority of our total distribution goes not to the homeless but to vulnerable populations such as children and seniors. Almost half or 40% of the people we serve are children and 13% are seniors.  Another interesting fact is that nearly one third of the households receiving food from Roadrunner include someone who is working.

Myth: You can’t be overweight and food insecure. Fact: You cannot simply look at a person in America and know whether or not they experience hunger. Studies show that a food insecure person is actually much more likely to experience a variety of health related issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. In fact, in the United States the chronic disease epidemic we are all paying so close attention to is caused at least as much by food scarcity and food insecurity as it is by overindulgence.  New Mexico is one of the poorest parts of the United States, and it also happens to be an area with some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes. Part of the reason for such high disease rates in New Mexico is that empty calories like chips and sodas are cheap and real food like fruits, dairy products and vegetables are expensive. If you are a single mother who has limited funds to pay your bills and feed your families, you are going to buy the food that goes the farthest and keeps your family feeling fullest the longest. You are forced to stretch every dollar and buy food you can afford….you know it’s not the best option, but right now it’s your only option.

Myth: SNAP benefits, or food stamps, supply individuals and families with enough food for an entire month. Fact: The average monthly SNAP benefit is $138.85, or less than $1.50/per person in household per meal.  In New Mexico, SNAP benefits last approx. 2.3 weeks of every month. This means that families must come up with the additional resources needed to get themselves and their families through the remaining part of the month every month.  Often they are not able to come up with those additional resources and parents find themselves skipping meals and standing in food lines so they can feed their families. Another interesting fact about SNAP benefits is that the average length of time a new participant stays on SNAP is only 8 months. The program, therefore, isn’t supporting people who refuse to get a job or people who are taking advantage of the system. Instead, SNAP benefits helps people get through hardships, allows them to focus on getting themselves out of tough situations and move on to better times in their lives.

I hope that you have gained some value information about some of the common myths and realize that hunger is big problem in New Mexico and it can happen to anyone. No one ever plans on being poor or thinks that they will find themselves in a situation where they need help with food. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck and are thrust into poverty by an unexpected medical emergency, death, divorce, cut in wages or sudden loss of job.  There are so many reasons people are forced to seek help with food, and those of us who have not yet not been in a hungry person’s shoes should consider ourselves fortunate.

Donna Marlow is the Strategic Giving Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank.

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