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Food insecurity remains a big problem for many in the U.S., and locally

people wearing medical gloves hand canned good and fruits across a table of canned goods and foods.
Joel Muniz

Feeding America this week released its annual report analyzing data on food insecurity and the meal gap in the U.S. Locally, rural counties had the highest rates of food insecurity, based on 2022 data. That's consistent with national findings.

The USDA defines food insecurity as when people don't have enough to eat and aren't sure where their next meal will come from. The report finds the national average is about 13%. It also finds that 9 out of 10 high food insecurity counties are rural.

More than 44 million people face food insecurity, and one in five of them are children, the report notes.

"I think that the number of children that we have seen the increase in is not something to be overlooked," says Trisha Rayner, CDO and vice president of external affairs with the Freestore Foodbank.

She notes COVID-era food benefits meant to help ensure children had access to proper nutrition have now ended, so the Freestore intends to focus on dealing with childhood food insecurity.

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While the data was collected during the pandemic, Rayner says it's still relevant because one big cause — inflation — is a major, ongoing issue.

"The average cost of food, the average cost of a meal and how much that impacts people per week, that is very relevant information for us because all of us feel it. The numbers themselves, we've seen an increase, and they are the highest percentages that we've seen the last four years."

Rayner doesn't expect to see those numbers come down with next year's report either, especially with compounding factors facing those dealing with food insecurity such as gasoline prices, unemployment rates, and the ability to find a job with a livable wage.

"We are here as an emergency food provider — we can we can provide that food when you need it and how you need it — but we also do workforce development, which is job training. We also advocate to have people with livable wages. It's all a balance there, and it certainly is something that we pay attention to, to make sure that we're not just addressing the emergency, we're addressing the long term needs of our community."

You can search state and county data on this interactive map.

In the greater Tri-State and Cincinnati Public Radio listening areas, Adams County, Ohio, has the highest food insecurity rate at 19.7% followed by Fayette County, Ind., at 18%. Next comes Carroll County, Ky., at 16.8%, Switzerland County, Ind., at 16.7%, Brown County, Ohio, at 16.6%, Grant County, Ky., and Wayne County, Ind., both at 16.2%.

Boone County, Ky., recorded the lowest food insecurity rate at 10.3% followed closely by Warren County, Ohio, at 10.4%. Hamilton County recorded a 13.3% rate.

LISTEN: Report shows the rate of Ohioans living in poverty has increased for the first time in 10 years. Why?

Shared Harvest, which serves Butler, Preble, Darke, Miami and Warren counties, saw a rate of 12.2%. For the 20-county area served by the Freestore Foodbank, the food insecurity rate is 13.8%, according to Feeding America's map. That's more than 254,000 people.

Why do rural areas tend to have higher rates of food insecurity?

"From a poverty perspective, that has an impact on employment, so employment in rural areas, transportation in rural areas, certainly have always impacted that," Rayner says. "The rural issues that we see with high poverty rates are long-standing poverty, high percentages."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.