New study shows food insecurity will grow in Atlanta

A new study by geography professor Jerry Shannon shows that food insecurity is on the rise in Atlanta. The study, which was done in collaboration with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, shows that those people currently experiencing food insecurity in Atlanta, in the downtown area and south of I-20,will see a decrease while residents in the suburbs to the east and west will see an increase.

That’s not really surprising, said Jerry Shannon, a geography professor at the University of Georgia. He said it matches the general pattern of increasing poverty in the suburbs, as in-town real estate gets more expensive.

“When we think about food insecurity and hunger, we often think about it coinciding with poverty, and we tend to think of central core cities as being the home for that,” he said. “But there’s been now a couple decades of research showing poverty itself increasing in suburban areas.”  

Shannon collaborated with the Atlanta Community Food Bank for his study, which will be published soon by the journal Professional Geographer. In it, he maps areas where he expects to see more people who need food in the next few years. 

Gwinnett, Rockdale, Newton, Henry, Paulding, Cobb and Cherokee counties all show pockets of increasing hunger.

In the outer suburbs, where land prices and housing are relatively cheap, there has been an increase in residents because it's more affordable. That affordability comes as a trade-off though. A lack of transit in those areas means that people often have to choose between spending money on gas or on food. 

That matches what the Atlanta Community Food Bank is already seeing, said CEO Kyle Waide.

“As a region, we have to think about things like transportation and how we can make food more accessible in food deserts,” Waide said.

He said it can be hard for counties where there is a relatively rapid increase in food insecurity to respond quickly, with resources at hospitals, for instance, or more free and reduced lunches at schools. Programs like WIC and SNAP can help, he said, plus the food bank, which serves more than 20 metro Atlanta counties.   

The analysis from UGA is helping the food bank decide how to allocate resources and plan for the future, Waide said.

“It's not a problem that lives somewhere else affecting some other group of people. It's right next door to all of us. And it affects our neighbors,” he said. “At the end of the day, our region, we are all responsible for that issue.” 

Shannon's research gives important insight into an issue that affects a lot of Atlanta residents. In projecting what problems might occur in the future in these areas, this research has the potential to motivate change and help those residents while giving insight to what has worked for decreasing food insecurity in other parts of the city. Great work from the department of geography.