Understanding the Relationship: Health & Food Security



There are significant data clearly demonstrating that food insecurity is  linked to poor nutrition and has substantial negative effects on human health across the life stages. Food insecurity does not primarily measure the nutritional quality of consumed food, but there is a direct causal relationship between food insecurity and intake of both quality and quantity of key nutrients at the household and individual level. Among seniors, for example, food insecure individuals have predictably low nutrient intakes. Controlling for other risk factors, a food insecure senior has a 53% higher risk of heart attack, 52% higher risk of asthma, 40% higher risk of heart failure, and 60% higher risk of depression compared with food secure seniors.

For children, the impact may be felt early and extend long-term. As one participant noted, “Food insecurity is written on the bodies and minds of children even before they’re born.” Significant effects of food insecurity include birth defects, anemia, anxiety, poor oral health, and asthma.

 Current data show that a significant decrease in food security in the last week of the month (frequently due to SNAP funds running out) can result in diabetes-related complications and also longer-term negative eating behaviors and stress. In California hospitals, a 27% rise in hypoglycemia admissions among low-income patients was observed during the last week of the month, suggesting a relationship between food insecurity and complications of disease management.

Food insecurity and obesity can co-exist in the same person, family, and community. One explanation is that both conditions are independent consequences of low income and the resulting lack of access to enough nutritious food. Many factors come into play here—shortage of resources with which to purchase food, lack of transportation, prevalence of fast food retailers, lower relative prices for processed, energy-rich (and nutrient-poor) foods, and high levels of stress, anxiety and depression in low income families all can contribute to both food security and obesity. As one dialogue participant put it: “We can’t completely disentangle food insecurity from low income and poor health.”