By Thomas Mantz
At Feeding Tampa Bay, our job is to address the issue of hunger and food insecurity. We help ensure there is a meal on the table in every home that needs it. This is, and will always be, our greatest priority.
But the other issue at hand, and one of equal importance, is how we advance the cause of hunger in our communities. In order to truly address the issue, we must better understand the nature of the problem. But oftentimes solutions are created before a problem is assessed. This is typical when crisis creates the need for response. In fact, this is exactly how food relief began over 40 years ago – as a response to hunger – and has largely been handled since. But in order to materially change the equation, we must consider a more strategic approach as opposed to a tactical one. And given we’ve seen a steady trend in the need for relief and don’t expect it to end soon, there is a great need to better understand how to approach the problem of food insecurity.
Researching the impact of food insecurity
As hunger continues to impact more and more children, seniors and families in Tampa Bay, we believe the best step toward understanding food insecurity, and its impact on health, is research.
Last year, Dr. Hilary Seligman, the lead scientist and senior medical advisor at Feeding America, offered this from her work in the field, “Food insecurity is associated with poorer physical and mental health outcomes across the lifespan, for both acute and chronic disease, and both physical and mental health.” The implications of these issues warrant greater research and understanding. Our aspirational target is to create a model that studies food insecurity along the entire life course continuum – from lack of availability and access to food, all the way to health outcomes.
Applying local research
Through local research we would continue Dr. Seligman’s work to identify the long-term consequences of food insecurity, not only on individual health, but also on the social, educational and fiscal well-being of the larger Tampa Bay community. Good research will yield a better understanding of the impact of food insecurity on health; better understanding will create more effective programming; better programming will improve health outcomes for those who are food insecure; and improved health outcomes contribute to the overall well-being of the Tampa Bay community and society as a whole.
While our goal is to provide food, our ultimate goal is to provide health because hunger is an issue of health. Feeding Tampa Bay is committed to the fight against hunger in its fullest form, and our battle ahead will be fought with partners like WellCare who are working with us to ensure that no one goes hungry and that all have a chance to live healthy lives.
Thomas Mantz is the executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay, the largest hunger relief organization in our community. In this role, he leads strategic development and implementation efforts that guide Feeding Tampa Bay’s mission to ensure that no one goes hungry.