TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Shawnee County Public Health Department has announced that more than one in six children in Shawnee County were food insecure during 2019 in a newly released study.

The report is titled, “Understanding Food Insecurity in Shawnee County” and was coordinated with the Shawnee County Farm and Food Advisory Council, Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment which supported the project through its Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Grant. The report indicates that the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic seriously impacted the economic well-being and food access opportunities of many members of the community.

Food insecurity is defined as, “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life” in the report. Lack of food security can cause many families to make hard decisions when trying to decide between purchasing enough food or paying for other essential services such as medical bills, housing and utilities and other needs.

The report goes on to say that the cost and consequences of food insecurity can be huge. This issue is related with declines in health status and increased rates of chronic disease, anxiety and depression among adults. For children, who grow up with food insecurity, it can lead to poor health and hospitalization, poor school performance and behavioral problems. Food insecurity can also lead to obesity as struggling families have trouble maintaining health diets.

Some of the other key highlights of the report were:

  • More than one in 10 Shawnee County residents were food insecure, which was similar to the food insecurity rate in the state of Kansas overall, 12.1%, but far from the Healthy People 2030 goal of 6% in 2019.
  • The two ZIP codes with the highest rates of both food insecurity and poverty were both located in Central Topeka. These were ZIP codes 66603 and 66612 which had 29.2% and 28.9% food insecurity levels respectively for 2019 and had a poverty rate of 37.8% and 37.6% respectively according to a 5-year estimate.
  • Eleven census tracts in Shawnee County were designated as food deserts in 2019 or as areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food.
  • About 52.3% of all people eligible in Shawnee County received Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits according to 3-year estimates.
  • A round 45.7% of renters in Shawnee County lacked affordable housing according to 5-year estimates.
  • One in 10 Shawnee County residents reported that they were diagnosed with diabetes as of 2017.

The report states that in order to achieve lasting reductions in rates of food insecurity in Shawnee County, stakeholders will need to continue to focus efforts on addressing the risk factors for food insecurity such as poverty, unemployment, lack of access to affordable housing and food and existing disparities by race and ethnicity.

The assessment was conducted by Samiyah Para-Cremer, Tatiana Y. Lin and Wen-Chieh Lin of the Kansas Health Institute. Highlights of the Understanding Food Insecurity in Shawnee County Report can be found here. To view the full 76-page report, click here.