In Birmingham, the rates are even higher. The portion of the city’s population living below the poverty rate is a staggering 28.1 percent. A 2012 report from the Alabama Poverty Project found that Birmingham had a 21.3 percent “food hardship” rate. With Covid-19, those rates are likely to increase.
One indicator of the state’s and city’s food hardship is the number of students receiving subsidized (free or reduced-price) lunches. In Alabama, some 50 percent of pupils are eligible for free breakfast or lunch. In Birmingham, all city school students have been eligible for free meals since the 2017-18 school year.
The obesity rate is just one of the things that underscores the need for a strong public health infrastructure, as it can help prevent future illnesses. Among the services that public health departments provide are cancer screenings and immunizations, which in the aftermath of Covid-19 have only increased in importance.
However, last September, the Alabama Department of Public Health called for millions of dollars in cuts for various county health departments, due to funding shortfalls. To his credit, the state health officer, wanted to ensure that the most disadvantaged populations, such as Black Belt communities that don’t have viable alternatives, would not be negatively impacted. It remains to be seen what ultimately is decided.