by Amber Burkhart, Health Policy Fellow
On Monday, September 8th, Hunger Free Colorado, the leading anti-hunger organization in the state, held their fourth-annual summit to kick off Hunger Awareness Month. Over 200 community leaders came together to strategize ways to improve access to healthy food for all Coloradans.
Although hunger is often invisible in our daily lives, more than 840,000 Coloradans could not afford to buy food at some point in 2012. Even more alarming, Colorado has the third-fastest growing rate of child poverty in the nation and as a result, 1 in 5 children in Colorado experienced hunger in 2012. When children do not have sufficient food intake, especially breakfast, they often experience poor educational performance and behavior.
Food insecurity goes past the ability of an individual to find their next meal by compromising their long-term health. Choosing between food quantity and food quality results in poor nutritional outcomes often linked to chronic illnesses and diseases. Key findings from Hunger in America 2014 for the state of Colorado, illustrate that an estimated 54 percent of client households have a family member with high blood pressure and an estimated 20 percent have a family member with diabetes. These rising medical issues have given way to rising medical costs – an estimated 58 percent of client households have unpaid medical bills and an alarming 63 percent have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care.
Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, gave a powerful keynote speech at the summit. She discussed the importance of illuminating the reality of people living on the edge of the economic margin and the challenge of how to present these realities in a way that resonates with policy makers and other important community members. Her keynote affirmed the need for storytelling and policymaking to move forward hand-in-hand.
Sister Simone Campbell also emphasized the importance of engaging in real, perhaps unexpected, conversations with people in places you frequent. For example, asking fellow grocery store goers their opinion of minimum wage instead of discussing the last Broncos’ game while standing in line. She hopes that these conversations will spark interest in imperative societal issues, ultimately leading to greater change.
Attendees of the summit followed Sister Simone Campbell’s suggestion of having real conversations by participating in an engaging collaboration café. Participants shared creative ideas on how to find stronger linkages between food systems and hunger, identify factors other than access that impact healthy eating, teach individuals to eat healthier for less on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget, and how to properly mitigate the feeling of inadequacy that families have when supported by government programs. Overall, the 2014 Hungry for Change Summit was an important step in confronting the most difficult food security challenges facing Colorado.
As CCHI continues to work towards achieving barrier-free access to quality and affordable health care, we must not forget the relationship between poor health and hunger, exacerbated by the growing health inequities in the United States. By ensuring that individuals can afford health insurance, we hope to eliminate the difficult choice between buying healthy food and paying for medical care.
For more information on hunger in Colorado or for ways to take action, please contact Nyabweza Itaagi, Hunger Free Colorado’s Local Engagement Associate at Nyabweza@hungerfreecolorado.org or 303-228-7992. Or visit Hunger Free Colorado’s website.