food insecurity and nutritional insecurity

Although food insecurity has long been the focus of local and national policy makers and researchers, nutritional insecurity has been largely ignored. A new study by the Institute for Food Systems Equity (IFSE) at USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences aims to change that.

This is the first study in Los Angeles County to identify the populations most affected by nutritional insecurity, other than food insecurity. Food insecurity refers to lack of access to healthy food that meets personal preferences, including cultural, religious and nutritional needs, whereas food insecurity focuses on lack of access to sufficient food.
The study also examined specific health outcomes associated with a lack of nutritious food compared to a lack of food in general.

Why it’s important: The vast majority of Americans do not eat a nutritious diet because it is very difficult to do so due to many factors, such as cost, access and time.

  • Nutritional insecurity and food insecurity have not been analyzed as extensively, leaving gaps in information about how to address this issue, and the specific health problems directly related to nutritional insecurity.
  • Nationally, poor diets are the leading cause of death. To tackle the problem, it is essential to know which demographic groups are most affected by nutritional insecurity.

In her words: “To address the root causes of chronic diseases like diabetes and mental health issues, we need to address nutritional insecurity and food insecurity in LA County,” said Kayla de la Haye, IFSE founding director at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Affairs . Research. “Tackling food insecurity is critical to ensuring people have enough food, but we also need to understand who is facing barriers to eating a healthy diet.”

What they did: The researchers surveyed more than 1,000 adults in LA County from December 5, 2022, to January 4, 2023, to determine rates of food insecurity and nutrition among county residents.

What they found: In 2022, almost one in four residents experienced food insecurity. A similar percentage reported feeling insecure. Interestingly, almost half of those who experienced nutritional insecurity did not report food insecurity, and vice versa.

  • 24% of Angelenos were food insecure, and 25% were nutritionally insecure, and 14% were food and Uncertain nutrition. This means that 1.4 million residents do not have money to buy enough food and cannot find food that is healthy and aligned with their personal preferences.
  • 6 million Asian residents – 16% of the county’s population – were more than twice as likely as white residents to be nutritionally insecure, despite not being at higher risk of food insecurity. This diversity may be due to a lack of access to healthy and culturally appropriate foods rather than a lack of access to enough food.
  • Conversely, Hispanics, who make up nearly half of the county’s population, are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to experience food insecurity but not at a higher risk of nutritional insecurity of. This represents a challenge in providing enough food overall but not a challenge in finding healthy food that meets their personal preferences.
  • Adults 18-40 and people 41-64 are about 5 times more likely to face food and nutrition insecurity compared to people 65 and older.

Big picture: Nutritional insecurity is widely tracked in low- and middle-income countries with food shortages and malnutrition. However, in high-income countries such as the United States, access to healthy options is often unequal despite an abundance of food.

  • The White House emphasized the importance of access to nutritious food when it announced in February that nearly $1.7 billion will be allocated to end hunger and increase healthy eating by 2030.

Zoom in: According to the researchers, both food insecurity and nutrition are valuable predictors of diet-related health outcomes in LA County, including diabetes and poor mental health, but not cardiovascular disease.

  • People who were nutritionally or food insecure were twice as likely to report diabetes than those who were nutritionally and food secure.
  • The research suggests that nutritional insecurity is more closely linked to diabetes than food insecurity.

What else: Both food and nutrition insecurity are equally linked to poor mental health. The results of the study are in line with a new area of ​​research on ‘food and mood’ which documents how poor nutrition, a consequence of food insecurity, increases the risk of depression, anxiety and stress.

  • Those who are food insecure are almost 4.5 times more likely to have poor mental health compared to those who have access to enough food.
  • People who are nutritionally insecure are 3.5 times more likely to have poor mental health than those who are well nourished.
  • Experiencing both food and nutrition insecurity increases the likelihood of poor mental health compared to those who do not experience both.

Next Steps: The researchers recommend that governments and public health officials monitor both food insecurity and nutrition and that food programs strive to address both issues to improve access to food and address barriers to healthy diets.

Local Authority County government has long tracked food insecurity and added nutrition insecurity measures to their public health surveillance for the first time in 2023.

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