Food security exists when people have access to enough food for an active, healthy life at all times. Estimates in 2018 showed that about 865,000 people in Missouri, or 14% of the state population, were struggling with food insecurity – and about a fourth of them were children.
Although food insecurity has declined over the past 10 years, it remains a persistent problem across the nation, especially among people of color and families with children. The causal relationship between lack of food access and health is clear. Negative health outcomes related to childhood food insecurity include anemia, asthma, anxiety and depression, behavioral problems, and worse oral health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many Missourians losing their jobs, thus making food budgets tighter. In the past 20 years, the nation’s food insecurity rates peaked during the Great Recession at 14.6% nationwide and 16.7% in Missouri. It is projected that current levels of food insecurity are much higher than usual due to the economic crisis. In fact, some national estimates show over 25% of households with children are struggling with food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. State action to bolster food security during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic should include improvements to food assistance and school meal programs.