Athens County faces the highest percentage of food insecurity in the state, according to recently released data from a domestic hunger-relief organization.

The data, released by Feeding America, shows both statewide and county-specific data on food insecurity in Ohio during 2017. As a whole, 1,691,910 people in Ohio face food insecurity — or about 14.5 percent.

The food insecurity rate in Athens County is about 19.3 percent, according to that same data. Of the about 1.6 million people in Ohio facing food insecurity, 12,680 of them come from Athens County.

The USDA defines food security as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, according to its website.

Access to food also means having affordable food prices. In the state of Ohio, the average cost of a meal is about $2.76. In Athens County, that average cost goes up to $2.85. 

Athens is also a leader in statewide poverty levels. The family poverty rate in the city of Athens is 25.9 percent and Athens County had an overall poverty rate of 30.2 percent, according to The Ohio Poverty Report released in 2019. 

There are ten cities in Ohio that have a poverty rate of over 30 percent. That includes Athens, Bowling Green, Canton, Cleveland, Dayton, Kent, Oxford, Portsmouth, Warren and Youngstown.

The study acknowledges that college towns’ student populations may affect the poverty rate. Family poverty rates, the study said, may be another useful indicator of overall poverty that takes students out of the equation.

“The high poverty rate in Athens County is partially explained by the large portion of the population comprised of students living off-campus,” the study states. “Students often rely on various combinations of familial support, irregular gifts, savings, loans, grants and scholarships — which may or may not count as income — to meet expenses.”

Athens is also among the top four most impoverished counties in Ohio, according to the same report. The top four most impoverished counties are Athens, Scioto, Adams and Meigs, which are all within the Appalachian area. Those poverty rates range from 30.2 percent to 22.5 percent.

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