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Understanding the problem of food insecurity

The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. This includes perhaps our physical or emotional health and the impact it has had on our financial well-being. There are many people who may not be able to afford providing three healthy meals a day for their family. We call this condition food insecurity, and this week I want to provide some information for everyone to digest on this topic.

Sadly, this is not new. Even before the pandemic, about 1 in 6 children in Vermont and New York were food insecure — which means children were going without food altogether for some meals or living on inadequate food. Now with the economic downturn due to the pandemic, even more families may be food insecure.

Why is food insecurity a big problem? We know that healthy nutrition is important for a child’s physical growth and psychological well-being. In addition, food insecure families will often buy inexpensive, high calorie, poorly nutritious foods resulting in an increased risk that their children will be overweight or obese.

What can we do about food insecurity? If you are experiencing food insecurity in your home for the first time or on an ongoing basis, know that you are not alone. There are a number of ways families who face financial difficulties can qualify for food support programs and access healthier foods in these difficult times.

¯ In Vermont: Apply for programs such as 3SquaresVT.

¯ In New York: The

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps a family that is food insecure obtain nutritious food options.

¯ Signing up for these programs results in additional federal funding for school meal programs, and in turn promotes a healthier community.

If you need to find a food support program in your area, simply dial 211 in Vermont or New York. These informational hotlines can connect you to several local resources. You can also log on to the Hunger Free Vermont or the Hunger Solutions of New York websites. Your child’s doctor’s office can also help find a food resource program for you.

If you are food secure at this challenging time, please consider supporting one of the food resource programs I’ve mentioned or others. You can help by donating food, volunteering, or even making a monetary contribution.

Hopefully, the information I have provided will be healthy food for thought when it comes to insuring that all families have access to healthy nutritious food which will, in turn, strengthen the health of our communities during and long after the coronavirus pandemic has ended.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.

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