The 2023 Mississippi Hunger Summit was an example of Mississippi public health organizations doing what they do best: coming together as partners to address our state’s critical issues.
In October 2023, the University of Mississippi CREW (Community First Research Center for Wellbeing & Creative Achievement) hosted the Mississippi Hunger Summit. Food access was a key component of the summit. As shown in presentations, food insecurity is an issue with effects that affect everything from mental health to education performance to obesity and health outcomes. With so many issues affected, welcoming input from a wide range of partners offers the best opportunity for innovative solutions.
One of the pillars of our work at UProot (you can read about it in our State Health Improvement Plan) is to tackle Food Insecurity. Food Insecurity is when people do not have enough quality food to ensure their health. This can mean insufficient food, or that the only available food does not provide the variety and nutrition required for good health.
Food Insecurity is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, and dementia. It also has a direct link to obesity. The reason is simple: When good food is hard to come by, families have no choice but to eat poorly. You can measure the accessibility of fresh, wholesome food in an area, and in many places in Mississippi, a lack of this constitutes what is known as a “Food Desert.” The distribution of these areas makes Food Insecurity a classic example of a Social Determinant of Health (SDOH).
Watch a clip from the opening remarks here:
Food Insecurity and Mental Health
Since hunger touches on many aspects of health, there was much to discuss, including the role of hunger and food insecurity on mental health. There are many connections between nutrition and mental health. Some are more obvious, such as the role of blood sugar in alertness or how the brain uses B vitamins and omega acids. Others are less obvious. Scott Hambleton, MD, Medical Director of the Mississippi Health Plan, also discussed the connection between the gut and the brain, a new area of interest that may become a powerful way of understanding mental and physical health that links both to the conditions in a community.
Food Insecurity’s Effects on Children
Children are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. The interplay between mental health, physical health, and the environment is precisely the sort of scenario that the SDOH concept attempts to address.
Uproot Partners in Action
Several UProot partners attended. The Mississippi Food Network presented information about food pantry resources.
While many people want to help with food insecurity, it takes skill to provide food safely and effectively for many people. These requirements, why they are in place, and what they achieve, were the focus of one of MFN’s presentations.
The 430 agencies that are part of the Mississippi Food Network are a testament to the number of people helping with food insecurity in Mississippi. It’s a big problem, and one a large number of Mississippians are eager to end.
To learn more about how to partner with the Mississippi Food Network, go to their website.
You can help, too. UProot is all about ways to build a healthier Mississippi.