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Study finds some military families with children need help with food

A free food sign sits on a corner in the West End neighborhood in Atlanta during a free food bank held by the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm on Tuesday July 25, 2023. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

A new University of Georgia study found one in eight military families with children have visited a food bank in a recent 12-month stretch.

The research, published recently by the Public Health Nutrition journal, also showed that Asian, Black and multiracial military families were roughly 50% more likely to use food assistance than white families. The survey was conducted in 2021, about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. It included 8,326 families across the country with an active duty member of the U.S. Army or Air Force.

A family’s chances of going to a food pantry jumped by 35% for each dependent child, according to the study.

“If we look at the American population in general, about half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Catherine O’Neal, the study’s lead author and a UGA assistant professor, in a written statement. “So it’s not really all that surprising that what we’re seeing with the military reflects the broader population.”

The study’s authors wrote that understanding more about food insecurity among military families “is vital” because it has implications for retaining service members. About a quarter of military families experience some food insecurity, according to previous research, meaning more families may need help with food than are currently receiving it.

“Broadly, the relatively small number of families in the current study who utilized such resources may indicate the need to grow resource utilization. It may be that those who need the resources are not using them,” states the study.

O’Neal pointed to stigma as a reason why some may not use food pantries.

The study found that Army families were more likely to visit a pantry than those in the Air Force. Families with two income-earners were less likely to seek food assistance than those with just one.

The authors suggested that community service agencies partner to spread awareness of available resources. They suggested that childcare centers provide a list of food distribution sites and educate the families they serve about those offerings, while food banks “can cross-promote other community supports.”

They also said efforts to help spouses obtain employment “can improve military families’ financial well-being and reduce food insecurity.” The authors said that “targeted information campaigns” could inform those most in need, such as single-income families, of available resources.


© 2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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