Ask Alabama poll shows many skipping meals, eating less to cope with economy

AUBURN – Auburn University’s Center for Governmental Services released statewide polling results today showing that many Alabama residents could be going hungry because of the prolonged recession.

A statewide survey of adults found that 27 percent believe that “a lot” of Alabama families are cutting the size of meals or are skipping mealtime altogether because of financial considerations. Another 36 percent said that “a fair number” of other families could be doing the same. Only one-third of those surveyed feel that eating habits have been generally unaffected by the economy.

“We didn’t ask people directly whether they themselves have cut back,” said Auburn University pollster David Hill. “Many individuals we poll may be too proud and reluctant to tell an interviewer bluntly that they are going hungry. So we ask the question indirectly, inquiring about families in general. This provides us a sense of what people are hearing from friends, neighbors and others in their communities.”

The economy’s effect on hunger is likely to be concentrated among the state’s have-nots, those with the least income. “Of those poll respondents that reported annual household incomes of less than $20,000, 51 percent said “a lot” of families are eating less,” said poll analyst Patrick Rose. By comparison, only 8 percent of those with the highest household incomes, $150,000 or more annually, believe a lot of Alabama families are cutting back.

The Auburn polling staff found that awareness of meal cutbacks was greatest in the southwest and southeast corners of the state, and among African Americans. Educational attainment was also a strong factor in perceptions of hunger. Almost 80 percent of adults with only a grade-school education say that “a lot” of Alabama families are eating less because of the economy.

“These polling results remind us very poignantly of the real and very personal impacts that economic conditions are having on our population,” said the Center for Governmental Services director, Don-Terry Veal. “This motivates us to work harder with the local governments we serve to find ways and means to provide a safety net for those that might be going hungry.”

Hill says that other polls also show that the recession is affecting American’s eating habits in diverse ways. “A recent nationwide Gallup survey,” Hill said, “found that Americans are eating higher calorie food in response to feeling economically stressed. This indulgence is causing weight gain, according to the Gallup study.”

The Ask Alabama survey results are based on telephone interviews conducted July 6-19 with a stratified random sample of 639 adult householders. The sample’s geographic, gender, race and age distributions were weighted to be proportionate to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data for Alabama’s adult (18 years of age or older) householders.

Rose, manager of the center’s Survey Research Laboratory that conducted the interviews, said that poll results based on the full statewide sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The Ask Alabama Poll is to be conducted quarterly by the Center for Governmental Services, a unit of Auburn University Outreach that provides research, consulting and training to government agencies, not-for-profit associations and private sector clients.

Upcoming poll results will cover:

* News media – Internet is a growing news source in Alabama; threatens to overtake newspapers.

* State image – Alabama is seen as a friendly place to raise a family or retire; but don’t consider starting a business or looking for a job.

* Jobs – Better pay and benefits top of list of what Alabama job seekers want.

For more information on the Center for Governmental Services and for additional information about the polling process, including graphic representations, go to http://www.askalabama.org.

For information on the topic covered in this release, contact: Barbara Struempler, a professor of nutrition and food science and a nutritionist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, at (334) 844-2217 or (344) 844-2216 (cell); or Douglas Coutts, a visiting professor on assignment from the United Nations World Food Programme in Auburn’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science, at (334) 844-3215 or (202) 441-4463 (cell).

Contact: Don-Terry Veal, (334) 844-4781 (vealdon@auburn.edu), or
David Hill, (334) 844-4867 (david.hill@auburn.edu)