What is Food Insecurity?
Food - one of the four basic needs for human survival. But what if you or your family can’t afford or access safe, healthy food? Food insecurity happens when food is limited, nutritionally inadequate, unsafe, or cannot be acquired in a socially acceptable way.1 Severity of food insecurity is broken down on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES). While a person experiencing mild insecurity may not be sure of their ability to obtain food, a person experiencing severe insecurity has completely run out of food and has had prolonged periods of hunger.2
It’s estimated that 42 million people in the United States will experience food insecurity in 2021. That’s 1 in 8 people!2 While food insecurity has always been an issue in the US, the fragility of food supplies was felt most during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass closings not only affected people’s ability to buy food but the ability of food to even be produced.
During the pandemic, less healthful foods like refined carbohydrates became more affordable than nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, or lean proteins.4 Furthermore, millions of children missed the school provided meals they depend on for nutrition. The pandemic also exposed societal inequalities related to food.2,3 Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to experience food shortages than White adults.3 One study revealed that Hispanic and Asian American households were more afraid to leave their homes to buy food.4
Food insecurity and its exacerbation during the pandemic, put Health Equity at risk. Health Equity is when each person has the chance to reach their full health potential, without facing obstacles from a social position or other socially determined circumstances. When Health Equity is not met due to factors like discrimination, racism, health literacy, and public policies,5 society will begin to see major health disparities. Healthy People 2020 defines a health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantage.”5
The most troubling element of food insecurity is that it is a cyclical phenomenon. Food insecure people frequently eat a less nutritious diet.
This can contribute to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions.7,8 People with chronic conditions may face financial or societal burdens that put them at higher risk for food insecurity, making it even harder to manage their condition.7 Addressing inequalities to improve health outcomes must be a legislative priority for America. Eliminating the negative social determinants that prevent people from leading a happy, healthy, and meaningful life is critical to the success of our communities and future generations to come. Combatting food insecurity is an important step in this process. There is some good news to report! While the projected rate of food insecurity for 2021 is high, it is an improvement over the 2020 figures (45 million or 1-in-7 Americans.).2 There are countless programs and organizations, both public and private, that work every day to combat food insecurity.
We’re doing our part here at N4L and our non-profit United 4 Longevity. We believe that healthy food should be a right, not a privilege. We are actively pursuing many avenues to help make this a reality. We are working state by state to achieve medical reimbursement for our food. We are also in the process of becoming a SNAP, WIC, and Senior Nutrition vendor. If you are local to NJ, these are very near term. If you are in the remaining US states, we are moving to each region one by one. We hope to be able to support great folks like yourself with your request very soon and we appreciate your patience and support as we pioneer this space.
- (Definitions are from the Life Sciences Research Office, S.A. Andersen, ed., "Core Indicators of Nutritional State for Difficult to Sample Populations," The Journal of Nutrition 120:1557S-1600S, 1990.) https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/measurement.aspxAccessed June 15, 2021.
- The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 & 2021. Feeding America website. Updated March 31, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/2021-03/National%20Projections%20Brief_3.9.2021_0.pdf
- Ndugg N, Artiga Disparities in Health and Health Care: 5 Key Questions and Answers. kff.org. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/disparities-in-health-and-health-care-5-key-question-and-answers/. Published May 11, 2021. Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Morales DX, Morales SA, Beltran TF. Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Household Food Insecurity During the COVID-19 Pandemic: a Nationally Representative Study [published online ahead of print, 2020 Oct 14]. J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2020;1-15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33057998/Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Healthy People 2020. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion [cited [Date URL was accessed]]. Available from: https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/about/foundation-health-measures/Disparities. Accessed June 15, 2021.
- Hanson KL, Connor LM. Food insecurity and dietary quality in US adults and children: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(2):684-692. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.084525 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24944059/Accessed June 21, 2021.
- Heerman WJ, Wallston KA, Osborn CY, et al. Food insecurity is associated with diabetes self-care behaviours and glycaemic control. Diabet Med. 2016;33(6):844-850. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26314941/Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Seligman HK, Schillinger D. Hunger and socioeconomic disparities in chronic disease. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(1):6-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20592297/Accessed June 16, 2021.