It's really amazing to think that in a city that has become so renowned for its restaurant scene, nearly 20 percent of the population doesn't have consistent access to food. But a new study from Feeding America found that to be the case. Even worse, in 18 southeast Texas counties, one-third of children who deal with hunger every day are not eligible for government programs like school lunches, breakfasts, food stamps or WIC.
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Feeding America's "Map the Meal Gap" study estimated the rate of "food insecurity" for both the general population and specifically for children under the age of 18. "We are particularly concerned about children who are undernourished. A child who does not receive adequate nutrition may experience behavioral problems, have difficulty concentrating in school and has an increased risk of medical problems," Dr. Craig Gundersen, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois and lead researcher of the study, said in a release.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 50 million people in America are food insecure, meaning they struggle with knowing where meals will come from. More than 1 million of those are in the counties served by the Houston Food Bank.
"This study finds that there is a more than $462 million shortfall in weekly food budgets that would provide the food necessary to keep Texans in the southeast region from being food insecure," Brian Greene, president/CEO of Houston Food Bank, said in a release. "These numbers -- especially the statistics about children -- should be a wake-up call to our government leaders that we can and should do better."
The good news for our area is that the study found the average cost of a meal here is about 15 cents lower than the national average ($2.52 as compared to $2.67). However, the amount of money people served by the Houston Food Bank who are currently food insecure would need to feed themselves and their families is over $472 million annually.