Fulbright Scholar's Canada study offers insight into hunger at home
June 21, 2007
By Bridget Whelan
An Ohio University Fulbright Scholar is developing programs to combat "food insecurity" in rural Appalachia.
Food insecurity is closely linked with hunger, but the term more specifically describes a lack of access to food resulting from geographic or economic factors, David Holben, an associate professor of human and consumer sciences, says. He traveled to British Columbia last winter to study the phenomenon and health outcomes that result.
In the greater Vancouver area, Holben surveyed more than 600 food bank clients to assess their level of food insecurity and understand how it affects their physical and mental health. He looked at three major factors: individuals' consumption of produce, social capital (how they feel about their place in a community) and eating behaviors. He correctly predicted that those facing food insecurity consume less produce and have lower social capital.
Although fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be rather costly, he says, they contribute to a healthier lifestyle and help prevent chronic disease. Without regular consumption of these foods, general health tends to decline.
Holben also discovered that people with a lower sense of reciprocity in their community -- the feeling that they can rely on neighbors and friends in times of need -- tended to have higher stress levels and poorer general health, he says.
Canadians have not been measuring food insecurity as long as the United States has, Holben says, but they may be tackling these issues more proactively than their southern neighbor. The Food Security Task Force in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, for example, is developing programs to preserve farmland and teach rural citizens to grow their own food. By 2010, when Vancouver will host the winter Olympics, the city hopes to have 2,010 gardens, many of which will be food producing.
Since he returned to Athens in March, Holben has been battling food insecurity here by applying the lessons he learned in Canada. Partnering with Green Edge Gardens and Good Works, he hopes to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health to initiate a program similar to Canada's "good food box" program, which delivers food to the homes of women in low-income households.
Holben hopes programs such as this will "improve the economic viability of the Appalachian region" by supporting local farmers and providing greater access to healthy foods for those facing food insecurity. He often introduces these topics in class discussions and encourages his students to consider ways they can help battle hunger in the Athens area.
"It's important for students to learn about poverty and food access in Appalachia but also to serve the community while they're learning so they can put a face on hunger and begin a pattern of giving back to their communities," Holben says.