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The Consequences of Insufficient Household Income

This new Consequences of Insufficient Household Income report provides a deeper level of understanding of the choices that ALICE and poverty-level families across the country make when they do not have enough income or assistance to afford basic necessities, and the consequences of those choices.

In addition to cost,

In addition to cost, work schedules limit healthy food options for many ALICE and poverty-level families. Many low-income households work long hours and do not have the time required to shop for and prepare low-cost meals. The USDA acknowledges that the Thrifty Food Plan – the lowest of the federal government’s four family food budgets – requires skill in buying and cooking foods that need a lot of home preparation time with little waste (Hanson, 2008; Leibtag & Kumcu, 2011; AARP, 2015; Drewnowski & Eichelsdoerfer, 2010). Proximity to full-service grocery stores is also a problem. Many low-income neighborhoods have minimal access to fresh food, which makes it hard for ALICE and poverty-level families to cook at home. Nationally, 37.7 percent of adults and adolescents eat less than an average of one fruit or vegetable per day. This may be explained in part by the fact that 30.5 percent of U.S. neighborhoods do not have healthy food retailers within a half-mile (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2013). Consequences Poorer health: Food insecurity affects health first and foremost, and the health problems that it contributes to have consequences for school performance, work productivity, and levels of chronic stress. Numerous studies have shown associations between food insecurity and the general problems of low energy and poor nutrition, as well as specific adverse health outcomes such as coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis. These effects are especially pronounced for children, seniors, and those with existing health problems (Fuller- Thompson & Redmond, 2008; RTI International, 2014; Hickson, Cuba, Weiss, Donofrio, & Cook, 2013; The Aspin Institute, 2016; Feeding America, 2014; Hickson, Cuba, Weiss, Donofrio, & Cook, 2013a; Seligman, Laraia, & Kushel, 2010; Gundersen & Kreider, 2009). 42 UNITED WAY ALICE REPORT – THE CONSEQUENCES OF INSUFFICIENT HOUSEHOLD INCOME

• For children, lack of sufficient food can cause developmental delays and lack of nutritious food can cause health problems, all of which can impact learning in the longer term. • For seniors, lack of sufficient and nutritious food can accelerate declines in health and cognitive function and exacerbate chronic diseases. • For working-age adults, lack of sufficient and nutritious food can lead to development of chronic diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease) and contribute to mental health issues (such as depression). Food insecure adults in the workforce may be less productive and have higher rates of absenteeism. • Food insecurity and obesity are linked: Though hunger can cause people to be undernourished and underweight, it can also result in people being undernourished and overweight. Obesity and its associated chronic health problems are increasing for all income groups, but it is not surprising that low-income families with less money to buy healthy food are even more likely to be obese. For ALICE and povertylevel families, the stress of food insecurity and other financial pressures can also contribute to weight gain. In addition, The biggest struggle for Rebecca, a single mother from Connecticut, is finding enough money to feed her family healthy food. Rebecca works full time while pursuing a master’s degree. After she pays all her bills – rent, child care, student loans, medical bills, car payments, and utilities – she has little left for food, clothes, and incidentals. Fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables are not cheap and are the first thing to go. Although she knows how important it is to feed her kids healthy food, she ends up choosing cheap, less healthy, but filling food. “My son is now overweight, and I think that it is because I can’t afford to buy healthy food,” she says. “If you could see a picture of him three years ago, when finances were not an issue for me, versus now, he’s gained 14 lbs. in one year. I feel like I’ve let him down as a mother. It’s my responsibility to teach him healthy eating habits.” Photo courtesy of United Way UNITED WAY ALICE REPORT – THE CONSEQUENCES OF INSUFFICIENT HOUSEHOLD INCOME 43

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