Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Hunger is a public health issue and should be treated as such

Not being able to afford a meal is a highly stigmatized issue. People experiencing food insecurity often feel shame and embarrassment. Many areas of the state, even within wealthier cities such as Boston, have pockets of food deserts. This takes a toll on the lives of residents and places a burden on local legislators to take action and work to fix the issue.

In a report published by the Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s HealthWatch, medical researchers used health-related data to define the cost of hunger in Massachusetts as $2.4 billion. They uncovered that health costs associated with not having enough food make up the biggest portion of this number. Professors have speculated this number is much greater, given that many people who experience food insecurity struggle with affording medication in favor of spending money on meals and other necessities.

Diseases associated with hunger are often hardly discussed in the context of the consequences food insecurity has on individuals. We don’t usually view hunger as a public health issue. This study brings to light the notion that when people can’t afford food, the consequences are larger than starvation. Without food, people’s mental and physical health deteriorate, causing a larger strain on their pockets while trying to treat themselves.

Quantifying an issue like hunger doesn’t seem possible or even relevant. However the study’s report of $2.4 billion is a testament to how hunger pertains to issues beyond just not being able to eat once a while. Even though putting hunger in terms of numbers and assigning it a monetary value to it does not seem the most effective way to garner sympathy, it does put it in context for local and even federal legislators. The government deals with budgets constantly, and providing insight into the literal cost hunger has on people can make the legislators realize that hunger goes beyond just affecting one individual.

Moreover, the study’s emphasis on portraying hunger as a public health issue suggests the crisis has far-reaching effects. Not only does hunger have drastic effects on your physical health, but it also affects your psychological health. As college students, we can certainly relate to needing enough food to be able to function to our best ability during the day. Additionally, some of the health conditions that are linked to people who aren’t food secure include asthma, diabetes, depression, obesity and arthritis, according to the study, which shows how closely connected hunger is to medicine. Many people are faced with either paying for food or medicine, which shows how inherently flawed our insurance system is as well.

The study proposed some solutions to fix the issue, many of which pertain to solving the problem on a systemic level. One suggestion was implementing more food programs in schools for children in need. Many children rely on school programs to ensure they receive at least lunch during the day, and sometimes even breakfast. While ensuring the health of our next generation is important, this is just one step toward solving the issue.

Another solution proposed by the study was to reimburse health care providers for providing food resources. While this might receive significant pushback, it could simultaneously reinforce the concept that receiving food is a human right and spending money on food is an investment in someone’s health and well-being. Thinking of food and medicine as interdependent could be beneficial in the long-run.

Boston, a city known as the medical capital of the country, has the resources to support legislation that would make these solutions a possibility. At the very least, Massachusetts does have the political mindset to combat the hunger crisis, with its reputation for being a leader in other areas related to the field of medicine and science.


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