Food insecurity is a significant global issue affecting millions of people around the world. In America 11.7% of households in the country struggle with this – but what is it? And how do you know if you’re living with food insecurity?
What is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity is the state of being unable to access or afford enough food to meet basic nutritional needs. It is a condition in which a person (or a household) lacks consistent access to adequate food for a healthy life. This can be caused by various factors such as poverty, lack of resources, and environmental or economic factors.
The question is: what specifically qualifies someone as having food insecurity?
A person or household may be considered food insecure if they experience any of the following:
- Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.
- Inadequate quality of food, including poor nutritional value, that leads to poor health outcomes.
- Insufficient quantity of food, resulting in reduced food intake or disrupted eating patterns.
- A sense of anxiety or uncertainty about the ability to obtain enough food to meet basic needs.
- A need to resort to socially unacceptable or extreme coping strategies to acquire enough food, such as stealing.
Food insecurity can be temporary or chronic and struggling with any of the five experiences above can lead to a lot of anxiety and maybe some shame, but you’re not alone and there are ways to combat food insecurity.
Causes of Food Insecurity
Here are just a few examples of the many factors that can contribute:
- Poverty: One of the main causes is poverty, which can limit access to nutritious food and make it difficult for people to afford enough food.
- Unemployment or low-paying jobs: People who are unemployed or working in low-paying jobs may struggle to afford enough food, especially with the other expenses of living compounding on everything else.
- Limited access to healthy food: Some people live in areas with limited access to grocery stores or fresh produce, which can make it difficult to find healthy food options.
- Natural disasters: Living in a place where natural disasters are common such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts can damage crops and disrupt food supplies, leading to food shortages and higher prices.
- Conflict and displacement: People who are forced to flee their homes due to conflict or other crises often face food insecurity as they may not have access to food or the means to buy it.
- COVID-19 pandemic: The pandemic has had a significant impact on food security, as it has disrupted supply chains, led to job losses, and increased food prices, making it more difficult for many people to access food.
While some of these causes may be beyond your control, it’s crucial to identify the specific factor(s) that are affecting you, so you can find solutions and move forward.
Food insecurity can have negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health. Psychologically speaking, shelter and food are fundamental needs that must be met. Failing to fulfill these basic needs can impede progress in other areas of life.
When someone does not have enough food or access to nutritious food, they may experience hunger, malnutrition, and health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It may sound contradictory: hunger and obesity? It’s important to remember food insecurity is not just the lack of access to food, but also the lack of access to healthy food.
In regards to the mental health effects, food insecurity can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. Children who experience food insecurity may struggle in school, have developmental delays, and be at higher risk for chronic health conditions.
How To Combat Food Insecurity
Though food insecurity can feel out of your control, there are some simple ways to reclaim your health.
- Make a budget: Creating a budget can help you prioritize your spending and ensure that you have enough money to purchase food. Sitting down for an hour to evaluate your spending habits can help you spot ways to reduce unnecessary spending.
- Plan meals ahead of time: Meal planning can help you save time and money while ensuring that you have nutritious meals available. Try to plan meals that use affordable ingredients and buy them in bulk when possible – since buying in bulk can be less expensive.
- Cook at home: Cooking your own meals can be more cost-effective than eating out, and it allows you to control the quality of your food. On our website, we have heart-healthy recipes that are easy to make at home.
- Shop smart: Look for sales and discounts on healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Consider purchasing generic or store-brand items, which are often less expensive than name-brand products.
- Participate in community programs: Many communities offer programs that provide free or low-cost food to individuals and families in need. These can include food pantries, soup kitchens, and community gardens. Getting help from your community can seem daunting, but it shouldn’t be embarrassing to get help to meet your mental and physical needs.
- Reduce food waste: Use leftovers and plan meals that use up ingredients you already have on hand. This can help you save money.
- Consider food assistance programs: If you are struggling to afford food, there are several government programs that can help. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school meal programs for children.