Why a Food Systems Approach?

The evidence continues to grow that most Americans don’t eat well. Public health statistics report increasing rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, as well as other health concerns that are strongly linked to diet. Rates of these illnesses are much higher in low-income communities than in high-income communities. Millions of Americans are classified as food insecure — they lack easy access to nutritious and affordable food. Despite the efforts of concerned organizations and individuals, the need for food security, education about nutrition, and an equitable, sustainable food system is rising.

National figures show:

  • Approximately 17% of children and teens and 34% of adults qualify as clinically obese. From 1980-2008, rates of obesity have doubled for adults and tripled for children and teens
  • The percentage of Americans with diabetes has increased more than seven-fold since 1958.
  • In 2010, 40.3 million people over 18.6 million households received nutritional assistance through SNAP. Almost half of these households were households with children.
  • More than 20 million children receive a free or reduced price lunch on an average school day; however 6 out of 7 eligible children do not receive free summer meals.

In Connecticut, food security issues are wide-ranging:

  • There are 656,195 residents in Connecticut living 185% below the Federal Poverty Level, or an annual income of $40,793 for a family of four. 94,985 (11.7%) of Connecticut children live in poverty, while 45.9% of Hartford children live below the poverty level.
  • 12.5% of Connecticut’s children are obese, slightly above the national average of 12%. In the City of Hartford alone, 31.9% of adults are obese and over 25% are overweight.
  • Over 400,000 residents of Connecticut are food insecure (11.4%), a 70% increase from 2006.
  • In Hartford County, over 110,000 residents (13.3%) are food insecure.
  • In Hartford, of the 93.3% who are eligible for free or reduced price school meals, only 40.2% of students participate in free and reduced price school breakfast. Connecticut is last in the nation for percentage of schools with a school breakfast program.
  • Only 58% of schools participate in a school breakfast program, ranking Connecticut as last in the nation.
  • Connecticut’s SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) participation rate is 69%. Connecticut was 9th in the nation to increase participation in 2009, but among the last in the nation for negative error rates and timeliness.
  • Federal food assistance programs are underfunded and in some cases they are underutilized because of access and enrollment issues. Only 53% of the eligible poor participate in the SNAP program.
  • Of the 102,004 WIC participants in 2010, 73,238 were children.

These statistics were gathered from the following websites, where more information can be found:

Additional information can be found on the City of Hartford’s Advisory Commission on Food Policy annual report.