HELENA - Nearly 150,000 Montana families turned to a food bank or meal program last year for nourishment, and hunger is the main reason people in this state seek help from charitable organizations, a new report shows.
The 1998 State of Food and Nutrition in Montana report indicates public health groups are increasing their efforts to keep residents well fed and healthy, but there's still much ground to gain. The report suggests better education about food and aid programs for the poor and more collaboration between businesses and health organizations.
"The food and nutrition programs in the state should try and reach a greater number of the eligible population in order to improve hunger and food security," said Crystelle Fogle, public health nutritionist for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Some of the most striking facts in this year's food report deal with food banks and other programs for the needy. In 1997, for example, food banks across the state distributed 1.5 million pounds of food, a 52 percent increase from a year earlier.
Still, from 1997 through the middle of this year, food bank demands were greater than supplies. The report shows food banks were able to supply 80 percent of the food requested.
The State of Food and Nutrition delves into great detail in a number areas regarding what and how Montanans eat. Among other things, the report deals with:
n Food safety. One in 65 Montanans become ill from a foodborne illness each year; food service regulation laws in this state are more than 20 years old and need updating, and food industry operators need more education in food safety.
In response, new rules for food service regulation will take effect this year and a national food service training program is coming to Montana.
n Children's issues. Montana State University reports that 24 percent of Montana children under age 5 live in poverty. In addition, 65 percent of high-school girls in this state are dieting - 11 percent take laxatives or vomit to lose weight. To combat those problems, groups are working to help teach poor families to stretch their food budgets and MSU is helping with a statewide campaign on eating disorders.
n American Indians. A survey found 13 percent of Indians living on or near reservations have diabetes, and face cuts in public assistance. Since 1992, there's been a steady increase in the amount of food distributed on reservations. Innovative programs, like family gardens on the Fort Belknap Reservation and the Northern Cheyenne's tribal garden are helping to ease the pinch.
Overall, the report says, groups fighting hunger and poor nutrition are moving in the right direction.