We know that hunger is present and, in fact, prevalent in Minnesota. We also know that hunger’s severity ranges from simply sacrificing the quality of food eaten to going consecutive days without eating. And, we know that hunger is typically accompanied by the uncertainty of where the next meal will come from.
While some people may believe that hunger only impacts those individuals who are hungry and impacts them only in that their stomachs grumble, research proves that the effects of hunger are actually much broader, much more complex, and much more troubling. In an effort to identify the true individual and societal costs of hunger in Minnesota as well as the possible financial benefits of ending hunger in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Food Industry Center analyzed existing hunger-related research. The landmark study, underwritten by Target, is the first of its kind to isolate the cost of hunger in Minnesota and to estimate the possible financial return when we invest in securing food access for all Minnesotans.
The University of Minnesota's Cost/Benefit Hunger Impact Study makes clear that hunger predisposes individuals to health problems and psychological and social dysfunction that result in higher healthcare costs and poorer education outcomes and, as a result, impose substantial monetary costs on all Minnesotans to the tune of between $1.26 billion and $1.62 billion per year (range takes into consideration both definitive and estimated costs). The study also presents evidence that public and private interventions aimed at preventing hunger are not just humanitarian acts or civic duties that benefit hungry individuals but are sound societal investments as well. For hunger relief organizations, the study underscores the necessity of working together to aggressively end hunger for the betterment of both those who are hungry and those who bear the cost.
Following is a breakdown of the most relevant findings in the Food Resource Center’s Cost/Benefit Hunger Impact Study.
Those who are hungry experience significantly poorer health and education outcomes than do well nourished individuals. These negative outcomes define the individual cost of hunger—that is, the effect hunger has on the physical, emotional and mental well being of those who are hungry. Of particular concern is the toll hunger has on children.
As noted above, hunger costs Minnesotans between $1.26 billion and $1.62 billion annually in direct and indirect healthcare and education costs. These preventable costs are the societal cost of hunger—the financial burden imposed on our communities and on society at large when we do not provide adequate nutrition for all Minnesotans.
Without question, there are significant financial benefits to ending hunger. Most obvious: if all Minnesotans were adequately nourished, the $1.26 billion to $1.62 billion Minnesotans pay annually in direct and indirect healthcare and education costs for hungry individuals would be eliminated. In addition, there are a number of public programs designed to help prevent and/or combat hunger, such as the Supplemental Food Service Program (SNAP), which, if used to their full potential, could offer significant individual and societal benefits.
Hunger hurts individuals physically, emotionally and mentally, and it hurts communities financially. And while hunger’s toll in Minnesota may seem insurmountable, there are solutions at hand to end hunger. At first blush, those solutions appear to come with a significant financial cost. But this study contends that what at first blush looks like a cost is in reality an investment—an investment in humanity; an investment in community; an investment that has the potential to provide a significant financial return for Minnesota.