When many of us think of hunger, we tend to think of starving children with protruding stomachs living in third-world countries. In the U.S., the images of hunger that come to mind are often homeless adults standing on street corners with cardboard signs.

The reality is quite different. The hungriest people in our community may not be sickly thin, but actually tipping the scales. Hunger, obesity and malnutrition are intricately connected in the United States.

Fast food vs healthy foodLow income families not only struggle to earn enough money to put food on the table, but many low income neighborhoods don’t even have full-service grocery stores where healthy food options are available – these areas are often referred to as “food deserts.” Instead families often shop for groceries at corner convenience stores or resort to eating at inexpensive fast food restaurants.

Fast food restaurants are not only prevalent in impoverished areas, but fast food is an inexpensive way to feed a family while also making sure that no-one is left “feeling hungry.”

“When you’re hungry and struggling financially, you’re going to get what you can afford and fills you up,” said Eddie, a Second Harvest Food Bank client. “It’s hard when you work long hours and sometimes feel like the deck is stacked against you.”

One example of this ironic co-existence between hunger and obesity is in Mississippi, the state with both the highest hunger rate (19%) and the highest obesity rate (35%).*

At Second Harvest our first priority is to feed hungry people in our community. However we also don’t want to compound the diet related health issues that many of our clients face. Therefore we have gone out of our way to prioritize the distribution of healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is viewed as an unaffordable luxury by our most financially strapped neighbors. We are proud to report, that last year more than half of what the Food Bank provided was fresh fruits and vegetables.

Senior Director of Programs and Services, Cindy McCown, was the first Nutritionist to ever work for a food bank. She was hired on at Second Harvest nearly 30 years ago. “The link between hunger and obesity is subtle,” she says. Under her leadership, Second Harvest helps by distributing healthy foods to low-income households while our Nutritionists educate our clients about healthy eating, providing them with simple recipe cards so that they can learn how to prepare some of the new foods they are trying for the first time.

* Feeding America Fact Sheet, “Food Insecurity, Health and Diet-Related Disease.” (2012)