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More Georgians go hungry all year

12/6/2013, 6 a.m.

Thousands of Georgians struggle with not having enough to eat throughout the year, not just on the holidays.

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Danah Craft

Danah Craft, executive director of the Georgia Food Bank Association, said that while nonprofits are happy that people think about the disadvantaged during the holiday season when food is such a focus, hunger exists year-round.

In 2011, one in five Georgians dealt with hunger, according to data from Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity. Feeding America said more than 707,000 Georgia children, about 28.8 percent, were food insecure in 2011.

The Georgia Department of Public Health says the state has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the United States and outpaced the national average of 16.4 percent of food-insecure individuals.

The United Nations called hunger “perhaps the most significant public health problem facing the world today.”

People who are regularly hungry or eat poor quality food are at greater risk of some of public health’s biggest threats, including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

“Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin,” Craft said. “People who are food insecure buy the most calories they can get for their money. Those are usually the processed foods, which are high in fat and sugar.”

Pregnant women who don’t have proper nutrition are at greater risk of preterm delivery and are more likely to have low birth weight babies, according to the World Health Organization. Those babies are more likely to suffer developmental delays and other physical problems, such as blindness.

Children are among the most vulnerable. Without enough to eat, they can suffer from impaired cognitive development, weakened bones and immune systems, and poor school performance and attendance.

The goal of the Georgia Department of Public Health is to help low-income families be healthy and productive by accessing nutritious food. DPH administers the federal Women, Infants and Children program for Georgia, which offers vouchers used to buy healthy foods for kids 5 and younger, pregnant women and breastfeeding moms who qualify. It also provides nutrition counseling and breastfeeding support to its clients.

Craft noted that many food-insecure families don’t qualify for WIC and other government food programs because their income is too high.

In 2011, more than half the people who were food insecure were above 130 percent of the federal poverty level and ineligible for food assistance programs.

“We know there are families who every week make choices between food and medicine, food and utility bills, or food and rent,” Craft said. “And it can happen to any one of us when someone loses a job or is working a minimum-wage job.”

Many of these Georgia families turn to their local food banks for help.

The Georgia Food Bank Association operates seven regional food banks across the state that are part of the Feeding America network, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Working through more than 2,300 partner agencies and pantries, they distribute more than 103 million pounds of food annually to 159 counties in Georgia.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank serves metro Atlanta and North Georgia, and 16.7 percent of the people living in its service area and 20 percent of all Georgians are food insecure, meaning that they don’t always know where they will find their next meal.

The need for food assistance has grown significantly. Over the past three years, the number of Georgia households receiving food stamps has increased by 62 percent.

Craft said anyone wishing to help fight hunger can donate food, funds or their time to their local food bank.

“We all can play a role in fighting hunger and helping our neighbors who need help.”

For more information, visit http://georgia

foodbankassociation.org.