Food Insecurity

In a country like the United States, it can be easy to forget that not everyone has access to an abundance of food and food choices. After all, the media and public health officials continually warn us of the risks of caloric overconsumption — risks that are quite real — while usually not discussing how food scarcity can also lead to negative health outcomes. But studies in the last couple of years have examined this issue in the context of people with diabetes, while a recent study confirms that food insecurity — lack of consistent access to an adequate amount of nutritious food — remains a significant problem.

The report, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), lays out the results of the department’s annual survey on food security, which uses a nationally representative sample. According to its executive summary, the study found that in 2011, 14.9% of US households experienced food insecurity at some point during the year. This represents a slight but statistically insignificant rise from 14.5% in 2010. In contrast, the level in 2007 — before the current economic slump — was 11.1%. In 2011, 5.7% of households experienced very low food security, in which food intake was reduced and eating patterns were disrupted among some household members — up from 5.4% in 2010.

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There is certainly a strong argument that food insecurity, by itself, represents a terrible scourge — a “humanitarian crisis,” in the words of a leader whose organization fights childhood hunger. But it also has well documented health effects, including in people with diabetes. According to a study published last year in the Journal of Pediatrics, food insecurity appeared related to worse health outcomes in children with diabetes who required insulin. Among 183 families with such children in Nova Scotia (Canada), 21.9% of households experienced food insecurity — well above the Nova Scotian and Canadian averages. Food insecurity was linked with a slightly higher HbA1c level, although this effect disappeared when other factors such as age and parental education level were considered. But food insecurity was more strongly linked to a higher rate of hospitalization; in fact, it was the only factor examined in the study that, by itself, was associated with more hospitalization.

Another study, published earlier this year in the journal Diabetes Care, examined the effects of food insecurity in adults with Type 2 diabetes. Participants were visitors of clinics that serve mainly a low-income clientele. After adjusting for other factors, food-insecure participants were found to have an HbA1c level of 8.55%, compared with 8.10% among food-secure participants. In addition, food-insecure participants were 46% more likely to have an HbA1c level greater than 8.5%. As the researchers noted, this effect on HbA1c may be explained by a shift towards cheaper foods caused by food insecurity. It may also occur because participants skipped meals, making it more difficult for them to maintain steady control of their blood glucose levels.

Are you worried about the current level of food insecurity in the United States? Have you, or has a member of your family, ever experienced food insecurity? If so, how did this affect your or their health? Do you believe that the current system of “food stamps” is an adequate response to the problem? Are there other ways for low-income individuals and families to achieve greater food security? Leave a comment below!

  • Ferne

    How in the world are all of us just getting by supposed to try and and give anymore of our small income to feed those on food stamps? There are too many who can work but choose not to because they can get more on welfare than working. I am tired of all this. We have worked so hard for our money and trying to be so frugal and then we see what people are buying with food stamps that we can’t afford. Maybe they learn to live within their means like the rest of us and not copy the government.

  • Brian Grinonneau

    In my work with St. Vincent de Paul, I find that those with food insecurity are not in that position because they can work and extricate themselves from their impoverished state. They are proud and come to us for help as a last resort. Do we need to do all we can do to feed the poor a healthy diet or do we risk taking hunger and diabetes to epidemic levels in this country? The answer is pretty clear.

  • Sharon

    There are always people who will abuse programs meant to help. However, I think it unfair to put everyone who receives help in that category. Some challenges afflicting people are not obvious to those onlookers. If there is someone who is lacking adequate healthy nutrition (keeping in mind that what is healthy for one is not necessarily healthy for another) we each have a personal obligation to lend assistance. It really doesn’t cost that much given the fact that when you give, you receive. Shame on those who are too selfish to help.

  • Gaye

    Believe ypu me people on food stamps and other government assistance do NOT”make more on wealfare…” I wish I knew where that comes from. A family of three maybe gets 325.00 in stamps a month.
    Thed news is a few people in the private sector are working with government to stretch those dollars. Here in Illinois there is a matching program whereas spend 20 in snap assistance and it is matched by 10. In effect making it cost only 10.! It’s innovative thinking like this that will help in the long run. While taking advantage of this people that know get decent food and those who need a bit of nutrition efucation learn by taking advantage of this. Ask anyone and they always say their whole family now eats more produce. Bad food is indeed responsible for many of our country’s ills. It is time for a whole food turnaround. goo