Research

How Disabilities are Tied to Food Insecurity

People with disabilities have high rates of food insecurity because they earn less or can’t work at all. Add to that their unusually large expenses for health care and assistive equipment like wheelchairs and special computers.

But the roots of food insecurity run deeper than just the financial constraints. Even middle-income people with disabilities are more food insecure, which the USDA defines as either deficiencies in nutrition or not having enough to eat.

Part of the problem is where they tend to live, according to a new Urban Institute study. Counties with unusually large disability populations have fewer places to shop for groceries and an oversupply of fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and small grocery stores with limited shelf space. Snack foods and sweet beverages are abundant in these establishments but the selection of fruits, vegetables and lean meats is limited.

A shortage of stores that sell healthy food is a bigger problem in the cities with the highest disability rates than in similar rural areas, the researchers found. But food deserts – a shortage of options for grocery shopping – are more concentrated in the less populated Southeast and Appalachia, as well as rural pockets in Maine, Michigan and New Mexico. The researchers used two sources of disability data: general disability rates in the U.S. Census, as well as data on people with disabilities severe enough to qualify them for Social Security benefits.

Two rural municipalities dramatically illustrate the difference in access to food establishments between areas with high and low disability rates. One in four residents reported having a disability in Hickman, a city tucked into the southwestern corner of Kentucky. But Hickman has fewer than three establishments that sell food for each 1,000 residents.

At the other extreme, Billings, Montana’s disability rate is half that of Hickman’s and there are 13 food establishments per 1,000 residents.

Plentiful food and nutritious meals are important for everyone. But access is arguably more important to people with disabilities because grocery shopping presents logistical challenges for people with limited mobility. Food insecurity also has particularly negative consequences for their already compromised health.

To read this study, authored by Barbara Butrica, Stipica Mudrazija, and Jonathan Schwabish, see “The Relationship Between Disability Insurance Receipt and Food Insecurity.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. 

One Response to How Disabilities are Tied to Food Insecurity

  1. Mary Pat Gunn says:

    Food is more expensive at the small convenience stores also. How about we take some of the farm aid, if it is still in Fed Govt budget and being given to corporate farms, and then redirect it to these food deserts. Caring for people not corporations.

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