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August 2020 Question of the Month: How Secure Is Your Diet?

Data shows that food insecurity has big health impacts.

Food insecurity

Despite living in a wealthy nation where food is readily available, a batch of studies highlights just how dire food insecurity continues to be in the United States. The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, and the health impacts are real.

Surveying more than 10,300 people across the U.S. in March of this year, researchers from the University of Arkansas found that nearly 4 in 10 had too little to eat or had difficulty obtaining healthy foods. This suggests that the pandemic has exasperated food insecurity, especially in Southern states, including Alabama and Kentucky.

Despite anti-hunger initiatives by universities and colleges, a recent survey showed that 39% of respondents in 2- and 4-year schools reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days—not good when there is a link between hunger and a diminishing grade point average.

Using data from the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey, the USDA’s Economic Research Service determined that low-income food-insecure households typically score poorly on diet quality. Factors include inadequate intake of fruits and whole grains, which can most certainly contribute to adverse health outcomes.

After analyzing information gleaned from more than 400,000 participants from 17 states who responded to the 2017 CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, investigators from George Mason University determined that those with cardiovascular disease also typically had higher rates of food insecurity.

And based on data from over 510,000 adults, a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that adults with food insecurity were 10%–37% more likely to die early from any cause other than cancer compared with those who regularly had access to enough food. Among the men and women who died prematurely, those with severe food insecurity died an average of 9 years younger than those who were food secure.

What do you consider to be the biggest drivers of food insecurity in America? Do you have clients for whom COVID-19 has made obtaining enough healthy food problematic? Have you personally experienced food insecurity? What policies do you believe should be implemented to reduce the level of food insecurity in the United States? Send your answers to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected]

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