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CWU students identify role of freezers in fighting hunger

ELLENSBURG, Wash. (June 20, 2012) -- Access to a freezer could be an important factor in the fight against hunger, according to a Kittitas County survey of what and how often people eat. Central Washington University statistics students found that 12 percent of people who missed one or more meals per week lacked access to a freezer.
"Statistically, that's highly significant," said CWU math professor Dominic Klyve, who took on the project to give his beginning statistics students real experience analyzing a community issue.

When the Kittitas County Food Access Coalition needed help interpreting results of a survey, Klyve and his students stepped in to help. The survey asked people about all home appliances used for food preparation or storage, such as refrigerators, freezers, stoves, and microwaves. A freezer was missing from the homes of 12 percent of people who missed one or more meals per week. No other home appliance correlated so strongly to hunger. Ninety-eight percent of people who never missed a meal had a freezer.

"The lack of a freezer could mean limited access to food storage or it could relate to income," said Robin Read, health promotion supervisor for the Kittitas County Department of Public Health. "A family who can't afford a freezer also may have problems buying food."

The coalition collected 858 surveys during 2010 to inform the group's understanding of the level of "access to healthy food and understanding of nutrition" for citizens in Kittitas County.

The coalition provided Klyve the raw data and, as part of a class project in critical thinking, students crunched the numbers, selecting certain data points to explore for correlations. Using the coalition's survey, Klyve's class established a "hunger index," which related to how many meals subjects missed in a week due to lack of food.

"Certain common variables correlated pretty much the way you'd expect," said Klyve, noting that income level was a good predictor of how often meals were missed.

In addition, data indicated that:

     * About 4 percent of Kittitas County adults ate less than they wanted to because they didn't have enough money to buy food.

     * About 20 percent of Kittitas County 10th-grade students said their family had to cut meal sizes or skip meals because there wasn't enough money to buy food (from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey).

     * About 10 percent of respondents said they get some or most of their food from local food banks.

     * More than 80 percent said they prepare dinner at home at least five days per week.

     *About 24 percent said they or someone in their household had skipped a meal sometime in the past year because they didn't have enough food.

     *More than 60 percent said sometimes, often, or all the time they eat less healthful foods because they are cheaper.

According to Read, there were other interesting correlations Klyve's students found that would have to be analyzed further.

"The community food assessment was a large project, with many people involved," said Read. "So it will be a while before all the information can be put together and published."

For more information about the food access coalition, go here

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1518, valeriec@cwu.edu