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Arkansas Ranked Second-Worst in U.S. for Food Insecurity

Food banks play a key role in the fight against food insecurity, sometimes called the meal gap, in Arkansas and across the U.S. (GettyImages)
Food banks play a key role in the fight against food insecurity, sometimes called the meal gap, in Arkansas and across the U.S. (GettyImages)
May 15, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The rate of food insecurity is improving across Arkansas, but a new report shows the state remains the second worst in the nation for people's overall access to healthy food.

The study from the group Feeding America says in 2015, overall household food insecurity in the state fell to 18.4 percent, from just over 19 percent the previous year.

But Nancy Conley, communications director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, says that's still well above the national rate of 13.4 percent.

"With the economy improving, people are still having trouble affording food,” she states. “Even though unemployment is at a very low level in Arkansas, these are low-level jobs and people who are on SNAP, or what used to be called food stamps, are still struggling."

Conley says food insecurity, also known as the meal gap, is defined as limited or uncertain access to an adequate amount of healthy food due to economic or social conditions.

She adds that, while she believes the Alliance is making a difference for families, 550,000 Arkansans still struggle to put food on the table.

In the report, Arkansas ranks second only to neighboring Mississippi. And while the meal gap is closing for children in the state, Conley says there's room for improvement.

"The child food insecurity rate dropped over 1 percent – 1.3 percent,” she states. “At 25 percent, that's still 1 out of 4 Arkansas kids that are considered food insecure, and that's still too high."

Conley says statistics show food insecurity is highest in the state's rural counties, particularly those in the Mississippi River delta region.

"People in rural areas don't have the resources that they need,” she points out. “Often, they are food deserts. Kids in the summer that usually would depend on school lunch and school breakfast, they can't get there. Transportation is a significant barrier."

The report says the average food budget for a household affected by food insecurity falls short by more than $500 a year.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR