Health & Hunger Conference Focuses on Food Insecurity in Northwest Arkansas

By Yavonda Chase

Hosted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Feed Communities and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, the conference aims to help the various entities working in and around health and hunger better understand the connection between food insecurity and health, with the goal of improving access to healthy foods and improving health outcomes for those who experience food insecurity..

“Many people are unaware just how connected food insecurity is to chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes and hypertension, but this is a very real concern for a lot of families in northwest Arkansas who struggle not just to feed themselves but also struggle with chronic health conditions,” said Pearl McElfish, Ph.D., director of the UAMS Office of Community Health and Research. “This event represents a unique opportunity for health care and hunger relief organizations to work together toward a common goal of reducing hunger and improving health outcomes in Arkansas.”

Food insecurity, defined as “being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food,” is a significant problem in the United States. Arkansas ranks No. 2 overall in food insecurity with 20 percent of Arkansans not knowing where their next meal will come from, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Northwest Arkansas leads the state in food insecurity with more than 121,000 people experiencing food insecurity in Benton, Washington, Carroll and Madison counties, according to the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

The conference consists of three lectures and four breakout sessions. Topics include “The Link between Poverty and Health Risks and Healthy Food Strategies,” “Cultural Considerations: Working with Marshallese and Hispanic Communities,” and “Policy Implications for Food Assistance in Arkansas,” as well as sessions on gardening and food safety.

Kent Eikenberry, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, said the three hosts of the conference “have worked hard to build a day that addresses all aspects of the fight against hunger right here in northwest Arkansas.” He added, “I consider it a win anytime we can get 150 concerned citizens together to share ideas on health and hunger.”

Ken Patterson, executive director of Feed Communities, also praised the efforts that went into putting together the conference even as he looked toward the future.

“We hope this will be the first conference of many that will support collaboration and foster innovative solutions for fighting hunger in our community.”

Feed Communities is an incorporated 501(c)(3) organization founded with the vision of supporting and expanding local food systems as a means of facilitating durable solutions for food security. It works with individuals, organizations, schools, universities, government agencies and foundations to create sustainable partnerships for increasing access to healthy foods and improving healthy food choices.

The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank is one of six Feeding America Food Banks in Arkansas. The food bank works to distribute food to those who are food insecure in the community and forge strong relationships with businesses, nonprofit organizations and others in the community who share the passion to end hunger in northwest Arkansas.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.