The health of our bodies and minds depends heavily on the foods that we consume. Lack of access in low income communities may lead families to choose available, inexpensive food options. However, these inexpensive food options are typically limited in nutrition.
Thus, poor nutrition can be the result of food insecurity and lack of information about nutrition generally. Read on to learn more about food insecurity and the benefits of nutrition education. We will explore food crises both across America and worldwide, and how nutrition education may be a solution to fighting international food crises.
What is Food Insecurity?
The USDA defines food insecurity as times when “food intake of household members is reduced and their normal eating patterns are disrupted because the household lacks money and other resources for food.” Living in this state can cause stress, which also has the potential to worsen health.
Families experiencing food insecurity often experience several compounding factors which make maintaining good health a challenge. It has been reported that families sometimes must choose between spending their last dollars on food or other essential things. Households served by the Feeding America network reported choosing between:
- Food and medical care (66%)
- Food and utilities (69%)
- Food and transportation (67%)
- Food and housing (57%)
What is Proper Nutrition?
“Proper nutrition” can sound like an ambiguous, lofty idea. But to put it simply, access to fresh vegetables, and unprocessed foods is necessary for good nutrition. A diversity of foods is also important. Read more on the USDA Healthy Eating Index.
How are poor nutrition and food insecurity connected?
Oftentimes, there is a connection between poor nutrition, poverty, and diet-related chronic diseases. Over half of the households served by the Feeding America network have at least one member living with high blood pressure, and more than one-third have a member with diabetes.
The time and money needed to treat chronic conditions can strain the already limited household budget, leaving individuals in increasingly worse positions of food insecurity. Limited access and poor choices in food have an effect on nutrition and health. The cycle then perpetuates itself as impoverished and unwell people remain impoverished and unwell.
Food Insecurity on a Global Spectrum
Food insecurity affects communities across the globe. Below is a closer look at food insecurity statistics of select countries:
Food Insecurity in America
As of 2018, over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children experienced food insecurity. Poor nutrition attributed to food insecurity often has to do with food deserts and food swamps. Geographically, these food insecure populations have more access to unhealthy food than fresh, nutritious food.
Food Insecurity in China
China is the most populated country in the world, and as of 2018, was also feeding 20% of the world. They have paid an environmentally heavy price for using chemical pollutants in mass agricultural production, which may impact growing resources for their own populations.
Food Insecurity in India
India produces more than enough rice and wheat to feed its inhabitants. In spite of this, hundreds of millions of Indians are in poor nutritional health. This is due to a lack of diversity in foods, which leads to micronutrient deficiencies in Indian populations.
Education on Proper Nutrition to Solve for Food Insecurity
As we search for solutions to food insecurity, it is clear there are benefits of nutrition education.
A USDA study has shown the effectiveness of nutrition education programs for both children and adults at improving healthy food choices and “overcoming the challenges and barriers to purchasing, preparing and consuming fruits and vegetables.” Low income families in these programs learn to provide healthy foods on a tight budget.
Nutrition education for kids is essential, as it can set them up for lifelong healthy eating practices. As of 2014, US students only received around eight hours of required nutrition education each school year. It has been proven that at least 40 hours of education are needed to change behavior.
Some schools have opted for school gardens. School garden programs can enhance nutrition education for kids, and can encourage them to try fruit and vegetables and have positive attitudes about fruit and vegetables. Education about healthy foods does not have to be complicated. At home, introducing children to cooking at a younger age can also help them understand and appreciate healthy foods.
Learn more about nutrition education at CDC’s Healthy Schools.
Poverty and food shortages play a significant role in food insecurity and poor nutrition around the world. But we can look to the benefits of nutrition education as a potential solution. Getting involved with charitable organizations locally or abroad and influencing children to make lifelong healthy choices are a great place to start.