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  • Jasmine Tzeng

Next Up in the War on Hunger: Nutrition Security

Learn more about the progression of food insecurity and the problems that Americans still face.

In a world where self-driving cars are in the future, it is hard to imagine that food insecurity is still a prominent issue. In 2019, 10.5% of US households were food insecure, which is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions. Lack of food can result in malnutrition, stunted growth, and poor health all-around. However, the USDA defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods,” which means just having food doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, conditions related to poor diets, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality nationwide. While this statistic may be disheartening, a look into the history of the fight against hunger will see the amazing transition from simply fighting hunger towards a future of nutritional security:


1969

White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health (the first and only ever held) - This three day conference saw around 5,000 participants develop over 1,800 recommendations to solve the issues of hunger in the United States. Many of these recommendations became landmark efforts to fight hunger, such as the expansion of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) and the National School Lunch Program, and the start of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the School Breakfast Program. Food products also became required to have a Nutrition Facts label for consumers’ knowledge and protection. This conference made major strides in the fight against hunger for the next 50+ years.


1966-1985

The Green Revolution - Staple crops such as wheat, rice, and maize, were genetically modified to be able to produce on a large scale in an effort to help reduce hunger. This increased the number of calories available worldwide. However, obesity in the United States began to grow.


1996

World Food Summit - The issue of hunger was recognized to be more complex than simply making sure everyone ate enough calories. The emphasis was shifted towards food security which emphasized the availability of safe and nutritious food for a healthy life.


2012

The Committee for World Food Security report recognizes that true food security is nutrition security. People not only have to eat enough food, they have to have access to sufficient amounts of suitable and nutritious food in order to lead a healthy and active life. This highlights the importance of their environment, lifestyle, and even genetics.

While the definition of food security includes the importance of nutritious food, rather than energy dense foods that give empty calories (such as fast food), calling it food insecurity still places the focus of relief programs on food. Food pantry interventions are very common, and they serve over 46.5 million Americans a year. Food pantries do help eliminate food insecurity and connect people with more fruits and vegetables. However, these efforts rely on volunteers, making it difficult to create sustainable change. Increases in education and intensive health interventions can help establish better habits. Additionally, food insecurity is associated with financial insecurity, lack of shelter, barriers to regular healthcare, disability, and abuse, so providing education for technical skills to aid in employment and resources for counseling is needed. Instead of focusing on the band-aid solution of providing consumable food to eliminate food insecurity, legislation and agencies should look at the matter holistically, taking into account all environmental, social, and lifestyle factors to help eradicate nutrition insecurity.


Sources:

https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/food-security-and-nutrition-assistance/

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/measurement.aspx

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2778232

https://biocomplexity.virginia.edu/news/lasting-influence-1969-white-house-conference-food-nutrition-and-health

https://www.pnas.org/content/109/31/12302

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-019-0002-4.pdf

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/systematic-review-of-food-pantrybased-interventions-in-the-usa/830BEECA6763B588234EA2E1220D02E3