One in eight households in the United States is food insecure. That means that over 40 million people do not have access to enough food. Globally, there are over 2 billion people struggling with food security.
Many of these individuals and families don't access to enough food. But for some, the issue is not the amount of food - it's the nutrition therein. Food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition are often used interchangeably. But they are different. And to be an advocate, it's important to understand the differences.
If you want to learn more about the issue of food security and be a part of the solution, keep reading. This guide will explain everything you need to know.
What Is Food Security/Insecurity?
According to the US Agency for International Development, (USAID) food security means "having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life." Individuals or families that are food secure do not worry where their next meal will come from. They have access to enough food to support the energy they need to live.
Food insecurity means that the individual or family does not always have physical and economical access to sufficient food. This can mean that they don't have enough food or that the food they do have does not provide enough nutritional value to support their energy needs.
Many people confuse food insecurity with the problem of "hunger". Sometimes these words are inproperly used interchangeably. The implications of each are very different.
About 15 years ago, the US Department of Agriculture stopped using "hunger" and started using "food insecurity". The term food insecurity is more accurate and descriptive. The issue of food insecurity doesn't only describe feeling hungry at a particular time. Instead, it describes what it's like to consistently lack enough nutritious food.
Food Nutrition and Food Insecurity
Food nutrition describes the value of food. Does it provide energy in the form of calories? Does it contain a balanced amount of carbohydrate, fat, and protein? A balanced diet means that a person is eating a certain number of calories and is getting the right ratios of each macronutrient (carb, fat, protein).
Cases of food insecurity can happen because an individual or family doesn't have enough food to meet the total caloric goals needed to perform their daily functions. Without sufficient calories, the body cannot perform at a healthy, active level.
However, in other cases of food insecurity, an individual or family has enough food to meet caloric needs, but are lacking in meeting nutrition requirements. Unfortunately, this has led to cases of obesity among food-insecure communities. The food these communities do have access to is more likely to be high in sugar and fat. This could also result from a lack of education regarding the topic of healthy eating.
Buying fresh produce and healthy snacks is typically more expensive than unhealthy, highly processed foods. Lack of proper nutrition can lead to other health issues like heart disease and diabetes. So, solving the issue of food security may not be enough to promote healthy, thriving communities.
A new term has gained popularity in the food security conversation - nutrition security. Nutrition security refers to access to nutrient-rich food that promotes a healthy weight, healthy heart, and overall well-being. Many groups are working to bring nutrition advice and nutrition tips to communities that are struggling with nutrition insecurity.
The difficulty with using food nutrition tips and diet counseling is that it may not address the environment that led to food insecurity. Poverty, lack of education, and insufficient healthcare make it challenging for people to buy, prepare, and eat healthy food.
What Causes Food Insecurity?
There is enough food produced in the world to feed its entire population with nutrient dense food. So why are there millions of children and adults close to starvation?
That question may not have a simple answer. The truth is that several factors contribute to the problem of food insecurity. As mentioned above, high levels of poverty are correlated with food insecurity and nutritional insecurity. Not having enough money means making difficult decisions about where to spend it.
For some families, especially those in rural communities, the logistics of getting to a store and buying food is too big of a barrier. They need child care, time off of work, and transportation to get to the store and then need money to pay for the groceries.
Global politics is another big contributor to food insecurity. Some farmers used to sell goods locally that are now exporting goods to other areas of the world. The farmers may make more money, but the community suffers. The price of food for local families, especially fresh food, increases.
In other cases, the United States will sell excess crops to other countries for less money than it costs to produce those crops locally. This is a problem because local farmers lose money because they can't match the prices of the imported goods.
As you can see, food insecurity is not caused by only a lack of food. Food insecurity happens as a result of systematic issues that overwhelmingly affect poor or vulnerable populations.
What Can We Do About It?
If you want to get involved with food security and nutrition security in your community or abroad, consider donating to an anti-hunger organization. Donating to food banks or food pantries is great, but monetary donations may go further to address the issue of poverty and food supply.
You can also donate your time by volunteering. Being an advocate for anti-hunger groups and learning and spreading information is another way to help out.
At Esperança, we aim to provide health education and promote healthy behaviors. We help to build healthy communities by implementing sustainable changes and promoting health equity for every person. We are a global public health organization and we are always looking for donations from caring compassionate health advocates.
And if you want to stay informed about the latest health news and our work across the globe, check out our other blogs.