Food Insecurity: How Hunger Affects Your Health — And What You Can Do to Help Fight This Growing Problem

Hunger

This kind of hunger is of growing concern in the community and in physicians offices everywhere. 

The American Academy of pediatrics recently issued a policy statement titled “Promoting Food Security for All Children.” The academy encourages all primary care physicians to ask their patients about whether they're ever concerned about not having food on the table each night.

So what is food insecurity? Food insecurity is defined as lacking consistent access to affordable, nutritious food. Ali Spencer, a registered nutritionist at Intermountain Healthcare's Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital, emphasizes that people who suffer from food insecurity don't have access to the right kinds of food. 

“Food insecurity is generally associated with a decreased intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy," she says. "Being deficient in the nutrients found in these food types, especially for children, impacts the body’s immune system, bone health, and teeth health.” 

The USDA defines food insecurity as lacking constant access to enough nutritious food to live an active, healthy lifestyle. It can affect individuals of all ages – children, adults, and the elderly.  

The health impacts of food insecurity. The American Academy of Pediatrics' recent policy statement says: “Children who live in households that are food insecure, even at the lowest levels, get sick more often, recover more slowly from illness, have poorer health, and are hospitalized more frequently.” The academy also points out that inadequate consumption of nutritious food leads to chronic diseases later in life -- like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.

“Individuals who are food insecure are not necessarily underweight,” says Spencer. “That's due to poor dietary habits established at a young age. Not always knowing where your next meal will come from can cause many individuals to overeat when food is available.” Other research shows that food-insecure households have a higher intake of convenience foods, which are high in sugar and fat. 

Mental health concerns associated with food insecurity. Food insecurity also relates to many behavioral issues. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics policy: “Lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence.”

“When a person or family doesn’t have adequate access to nutritious food on a a regular basis, they're more likely to have behavioral problems and lack social skills, says Adam Hornung, director of Behavioral Health Services at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. “Some research shows that inadequate nutrition leads to having more stressful life-events, high anxiety, and more aggressive behaviors,”he says.

So what can we do to fight food insecurity? We know it's a concern in our communities. Many organizations are working to tackle the problem. Our opportunity is first, to understand the problem. Second, work on the problem in our own life and household. And third, once your own life and house are in order, reach out to your neighbors and those in our community that are working to curve the trend downward. 

Look at the food in your own kitchen, and if your cupboards are full, remember the epitaph of Jackie Robinson: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."