Mar 23, 2023 - News

Poll: 41% of Tennessee families face food insecurity

Illustration of a padlock as a bag of groceries

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A growing number of Tennessee families struggle with food insecurity, according to a new poll from the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy.

  • About 41% of Tennessee parents reported low or very low food security — a 10-point increase over last year.

Why it matters: The poll results suggest a broad swath of Tennessee families are at risk of going without proper nutrition. That presents a number of obvious immediate concerns, especially for children, but it can also have long-term health effects that stretch into adulthood, pediatrician Cristin Fritz tells Axios.

  • Fritz, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, says children who grow up in homes that are food insecure face a higher risk of developing obesity, hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and depression.

Between the lines: The poll, which was conducted last fall, asked 1,034 Tennessee parents about a wide range of issues, including food security and changes in food spending due to price increases.

  • About 72% of parents said they had changed their food spending habits due to rising prices. More than 28% of that group reported parents skipped meals as a result.

Of note: There was a stark racial gap: 51% of Black parents in Tennessee reported low or very low food security compared to 38% of white parents.

What she's saying: "I would hope that leaders and lawmakers see this data and take stock of it," Fritz says.

  • "Something needs to be done to help support these children and their families so that they can get access to the nutrition and food they need to live a healthy life and grow up to really reach their fullest potential."

State of play: Signe Anderson, the director of nutrition advocacy at the Tennessee Justice Center, tells Axios the poll results reflect the reality her team has seen as they work to connect families with support programs.

  • "Over the last year, it's been tough on many different levels," she says.
  • Anderson says the state phased out some federal pandemic relief that gave families more funding for food. At the same time, inflation drove up costs.

The big picture: This degree of food insecurity reflects a deep level of need families face on several fronts, Anderson says.

  • "We really need to look hard beyond food to address other basic needs, like housing, transportation and child care."
  • "I think there's a lot more that we can do to support families coming out of the pandemic."

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