The closest grocery store is a few miles away and your paycheck doesn’t clear until Friday. You even skipped lunch. With no car, only a few dollars and kids at home, you decide dinner will have to, yet again, be the local fast-food restaurant within walking distance. It’s cost-effective, but you’re already bracing for the “healthy weight” conversation at the paediatrician’s next month.
Over 11% of all households in the United States are food insecure. They worry about running out of food and rationing what they do have. It is clear food insecurity leads to poorer health. Regardless of age, food insecure individuals are more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression. Children are at higher risk for asthma, malnutrition and cognitive problems. Non-elderly adults are more likely to have hypertension and diabetes, and seniors see limitations in their daily activities.
The connection between food insecurity and obesity may seem less obvious. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show almost 1 in 5 kids in America is obese, with rates rising in adults to 2 in 5, and recent research suggests the link between the two may be stronger than we think.
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
For example, living in a food desert can negatively impact your health, putting you at higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Food deserts are low-income communities where stores to buy fruits, vegetables and other whole foods are either too far away or don’t exist at all. Even when controlling for individual and household factors, such as diet and exercise or household education level, living in a food desert is linked to a higher risk of obesity.
First, we can improve the options available in food insecure neighborhoods, with an emphasis on fresh produce and whole foods. At the same time, we should work to lower the cost of healthy food and improve stores’ marketing strategies. In fact, lowering prices may offer more relief than simply adding more grocery stores.
On a broader level, federal policies can also alleviate individual barriers to good food. Food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC (a similar assistance program for mothers and children), and even Medicaid all help. The relationship between SNAP benefits and food insecurity is clear — those who lose their benefits become more food insecure. Research suggests that gaining Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act also improves food security by alleviating health care expenses that previously diverted family resources away from food.