Understanding Food Scarcity in Northwest Arkansas

Kevin Fitzpatrick

 

Short Talks From The Hill” is a new podcast highlighting research and scholarly work across the University of Arkansas campus. Each segment features a university researcher discussing his or her work. In this episode, Bob Whitby talks to Kevin Fitzpatrick, a sociology professor at the University of Arkansas, about his research at Springdale High School on the topic of food scarcity. 

Bob Whitby: Let’s start first with just a little bit about your background and the kinds of things broadly that you are interested in researching.

Kevin Fitzpatrick: So, I’ve been here at the University of Arkansas for almost 11 years.  Prior to that was at the University of Alabama in Birmingham for 20 and began a lot of the work that I am doing currently, 20 or 30 years ago by focusing on community issues.  And one of the issues that we’ve been working on for some time now is our work on homelessness.  We started that in Birmingham and continue that work here in northwest Arkansas.  More recently, related to issues that are poverty focused, we’ve started work examining issues related to food insecurity, health, nutrition among children and part of that has been generated by a lack of information.  We know that for example, we continue to hear the typical figure that about 25% of children in northwest Arkansas live in poverty and there’s X% that experience food insecurity.  But those have been very general kinds of data points and we’ve really not drilled down to look at that specifically among the school age population in northwest Arkansas.  So that was the intention and so the original study that we did a few years ago was in the Owl Creek School, part of the Fayetteville School District. Interviewed about 350 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students and their parents. A couple of things that come out of what we find is that food insecurity is clearly an important issue.  It’s tied to other health and mental health issues for these kids.  The perception of food insecurity and health, interestingly enough, differs between kids and their parents, which actually ends up being an important part of why we continue to do work that asks children and adolescents questions directly as opposed to through their parents.  Because there’s a different perception and I think that ends up being really important.  One of the things that we felt were missing was an older voice. So the early adolescent voice is an important one.  Developing, not quite developed but we wanted to hear an older voice, so we approached the Springdale Schools.  We wanted to be in a different school district.  We wanted the largest school and the most diverse school and landed on Springdale High School.  One of the things that we wanted to do that we had not been able to do prior was to get some insight into the sub-population questions of food insecurity, obesity, health nutrition among Hispanic students and among Marshallese students. 

BW:  You just finished gathering the data so you don’t have results yet.

KF: The data’s completed so we basically completed it in a relatively short window of time. 

BW: Do you have any inkling as to what you might find?

KF: You know, it’s funny, as we go through the data and kind of clean it, you begin to glean some pattern.  And we can clearly see that this is a population of students who clearly are experiencing food insecurity. 

BW: So what is food insecurity?

KF: Well, food insecurity is more than just an absence of food.  If you look at the USDA module that measures food insecurity, that we end up using in an adapted form for both the Owl Creek and Springdale High School study; it is about access to food, it’s about having money to buy good food, and so there are a series of questions that we use that essentially have a scale where 0 would represent no food insecurity and 12 would kind of represent high or maximum food insecurity.  And it’s a continuum, I mean food insecurity it not “I have it or I don’t.”  There is a range in which people experience and food insecurity gets expressed in several different ways.  That’s the beauty of this set of questions.  It’s not just simply, “do you have food” or “do you not have food?”  Somehow that would represent a perfect dichotomy and that’s not the case. 

BW:  Well, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

KF:  Yeah, thanks for inviting me.

BW:  When can we expect the study?

KF: Hopefully sometime this early spring we would be able to get it completed and it will be on our website which is cfi.uark.edu which is the Community and Family Institute website.  It’ll be posted in PDF form there hopefully in the next few months.

BW:  Excellent.

KF:  Okay.

BW: Thank you.

Music for Short Talks From The Hill was written and performed by Ben Harris, guitar instructor at the University of Arkansas.  For more information and additional podcasts, go to KUAF.com or researchfrontiers.uark.edu, the home of research news at the University of Arkansas.

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