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Relationship between Food Insecurity and Health Inequities


Food insecurity, defined as lack of access to a sufficient quality of nutrition-dense food, impacts one in eight American households. If you do the math, that leads to 44.2 million Americans suffering from some form of food insecurity. 

The impacts of food insecurity are drastic and lead to dire health consequences for individuals especially those susceptible to food insecurity such as low-income and minority communities.

Let's explore some of these consequences and the ways in which we can advocate for those who are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. 

What are Food Deserts?

Food deserts are areas where people have limited access to healthy foods including affordable supermarkets and grocery shops. Food deserts can be identified by a lack of local grocery stores and an abundance of fast food restaurants and are usually located in low-income communities. People that reside in food deserts are more perceptible to malnutrition and chronic diseases including diabetes and obesity[1]due to lack of healthy foods readily available to residents.

According to Jerry Shannon, an associate professor at the Department of Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics at the University of Georgia, many concerns arise with the comparative abundance of highly processed foods and supersaturated sugary beverages combined with the lack of fresh produce available within food desserts. This phenomenon leads to the emergence of obesogenic environments[2]:areas where population obesity is more common compared to others.

Food deserts do not normally reside in one type of population but rather a vast amount of rural, suburban, and urban subgroups of communities. However, they tend to be concentrated in the Mid-West and Southern parts of the United States and black and brown communities. 

What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity is a multifaceted issue that impacts millions of people worldwide and in the United States. Food insecurity stems from the inability to access nutritious food due to the intersectionality of poverty, economic insecurity, and other systemic inequalities that may be factored in. While food deserts are often linked with high levels of food insecurity, it's important to note that one doesn't necessarily have to reside in a food desert to experience food insecurity.

Food insecurity has the impact of decreasing a person's physical health, quality of life, and mental wellbeing and is one of the nation's leading health and nutrition issues. For example, in a study conducted by Craig Gundersen and James P. Ziliak, it was proven that all age groups that face food insecurity face many negative consequences in regard to  health outcomes[3]. In children, food insecurity is associated with increased risks of birth defects, anemia, and cognitive problems. Additionally, non-senior adults also face increased rates of mental health problems and depression, hypertension, diabetes, etc.

The consequences of food insecurity can not be fixed overnight.

First, it's important to acknowledge the issue, no matter the severity, to then act to integrate comprehensive approaches that includes policy intervention, community support systems, and increased educational resources to ensure all individuals have the opportunity to live healthier and happier. 




Why are Lower-Income Communities Targeted?

There are many factors to why lower-income communities are more likely to be food desserts in comparison to higher-income communities.

For one, there's a lack of investment towards supermarkets and other branded grocery stores due to beliefs of lack of profit in comparison to middle-income and higher-income communities. This also results in a greater incentive for fast food owners to invest in these communities due to the affordability of fast food despite massive health consequences.

Another factor is the lack of nutritional education that lower-income communities face when choosing where to go for their next meal. There's an overall lower awareness of the benefits of eating healthy food as well as easy-to-cook yet nutrition dense recipes being taught to these communities. Oftentimes, low income families choose unhealthy food because it's easy and more convenient to buy, choosing to sacrifice health instead of the time it takes to buy, prepare, and cook ingredients.

To counteract this measure, educational classes should be available to people who struggle with managing work-related activities with following a healthy diet to ensure that struggling communities can make cheap, fast, and healthy meals at home. Whether these classes be in-person or online, everyone should have the resources available to be proactive in improving their health and living a holistic and healthier lifestyle. 


Relationship between Food Insecurity and Health Inequities


What can we do?

In order to reduce the consequences of food insecurity and the rise of food deserts in the United States, action must be taken to advocate for the health and wellbeing of communities in need.

One measure includes expanding policy and legislation including existing policy, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Both programs allow for increased funding for nutritious foods for families needing financial assistance.

Further incentives are also needed to ensure supermarkets and grocery stores are being open in low-income communities to provide equitable access to healthy, nutritious food options.

Although programs like Feeding America and other leading organizations have resiliently fought for meal pantries and food banks across the United States, we must take the initiative and advocate for policies to reduce food insecurity. 



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Kristina Setterstrom

Kristina Setterstrom

Hello, my name is Kristina and I am currently a student at New York University studying Nursing. Throughout my life, I’ve always been intrigued by the intersectionality between medicine, law, and ethics. Throughout my career, I aim to explore the ways that nurses and other medical providers can further enhance the integration of moral principles in patient care, in addition to reducing incidents of malpractice. Empowering medical professionals to navigate complex moral dilemmas is one step towards cultivating a healthcare system rooted in ethical integrity and patient-centered care.

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