Based on recent information from the United Nations, since May 2020, global food prices have risen 18%, which is a six-year high and expected to keep climbing. Already stretched food budgets will feel increased pressures.

In 2019, US households’ poorest spent 36% of their income on food, compared to 9% by the wealthiest, which is in line with other developed countries such as Canada and Australia. On the surface, it looks like the poor spend more on food because they consider nutrition more important.

The truth comes down to analyzing the percentages of income.

Based on the lowest spending when measured by every country’s percentage, the reported global 18% rise equates to 8% of the average American minimum wage. This 8% has a far more significant impact on a minimum wage salary than it does a middle-class salary. Here lies the issue of equity.

With the impact of an 18% increase in food costs, the most impoverished experience a rise from 36% of their income towards food to 42.5%. The 18% impact on the wealthiest will increase from 9% to 10.6%. As these increases occur, the disadvantaged will further cut their food budgets. Some will eat out fewer times or not eat out at all in exchange for making food at home.

Some will not eat.

As these inequities persist, the inability to buy quality food will affect growth and productivity outcomes related to education and health.

Humans need quality, nutritionally rich food to grow and function well.

As the COVID pandemic forces more Americans out of work, catastrophic weather, strikes by farmers, and countries cutting back on food exports cause food shortages and climbing food prices; more people will turn to cheaper, less nutrient-dense food. The middle class will meet the intersection of poverty. The overall effect on America will create a downturn in economics, education, and health.

We can prevent and rectify adverse outcomes by applying better responses, including effective economic and social strategies that address food system disparities.