Food insecurity, or not having reliable access to nutritious and affordable food, is much higher in Franklin County than estimates initially thought. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

The population of Columbus residents who don’t know where or when their next meal will come from is higher than initially thought, according to a new analysis.

Researchers at Ohio State have discovered the actual rate of food insecurity in Franklin County is double the rate the county initially estimated.

The  study, titled “A Tale Of Two Food Environments,” found that 32.2 percent of Franklin County residents experience food insecurity. The original county estimate was 17.4 percent.

More than 16 percent of homes had very low food security, meaning the residents were skipping meals, at risk of experiencing hunger and potentially suffering from health problems.

Areas such as the southern parts of Franklinton and South and East Linden seem to be suffering the most from problems of food insecurity. People who encounter minor levels of food insecurity might rely on federal or private programs —occasionally or throughout the year — and often have reduced their quality of diet in order eat.

Assistant professor of social work and lead author of the study Michelle Kaiser. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State

Those who deal with higher, more extreme forms of food insecurity are forced to skip meals and often experience hunger.

“At the end of the day, if you’re feeling hungry or if you’ve got lots of concern about where your food is going to come from, it’s going to impact your physical and mental health,” said Michelle Kaiser, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of social work.

The researchers surveyed more than 650 households in a wide range of neighborhoods to assure different sociodemographic characteristics, as well as the amount of investments made into the communities, were represented.

Of the households surveyed by the researchers, 26 percent were “not at all satisfied” with their ability to easily access food and 27 percent said it “wasn’t easy” to find fresh fruits and vegetables.

The county gets its numbers by looking at which demographics are most likely to be food-insecure  — single-parent households, low income levels — then makes an estimate based on the demographic makeup of the county, rather than the door-to-door method conducted by the Ohio State researchers.

“When doing estimates for an entire area you are missing out on the fact there are very distinct inequalities,” Kaiser said. “It’s not an estimate if people were actually telling us that yes that they run out of food at the end of the month, and yes, they’ve experienced hunger.”

Food insecurity can stem from not only low income, but also has to do with the price, type and access to food.

Many people who suffer from food insecurity and are not located near a supermarket and find themselves shopping at corner stores, pharmacies and carryouts, according to the study. This means people shopping from those places buy food that is of lower nutritional quality, more expensive and have fewer options overall.

Areas hit hardest by food insecurity have had supermarkets close down, furthering the negative impact. Kaiser said the recent closing of a Kroger in the Linden area as one of many examples.