Outlining Food Insecurity


By: Kevin Reilly, 2016-2017 Work First Fellow


What did you have for lunch today? What will you have for lunch tomorrow or even next week?


Although most people might not know exactly what’s on the menu, they know they will have something to eat the next time they are hungry. Unfortunately, 14% of Americans do not live with that comfort. These 42.2 million individuals, 30% of which are children, are the food insecure population of our country.


To start, the measurement of food security and insecurity is somewhat fluid; however, researchers and scholars are consistently concerned if individuals have consistent and uninterrupted access to food. In 2001 the United Nations’ World Food Summit modified the definition to the following:

“Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life””

This change elevated the importance of nutrition in the measurement of food security. This focus of nutrition is important, as healthy diets can be more expensive and difficult to access than less nutritious, but more affordable diets. A British Medical Journal found healthy diets cost nearly $550 a year more than unhealthy diets.


For example, go to a local convenience store and recognize the buy-one-get-one free deals on chips and soda. Then walk to the milk aisle and note this essential dietary need at a more expensive rate. Now put yourself in the shoes of a New Yorker relying entirely on social services.


NYC HRA published a poster demonstrating the value of welfare only vs. work and found that individuals have access to more money when working even a low paying job. In the example the annual income of an individual relying entirely on welfare was $17,016. The counter including some public assistance and work at $9 an hour. When working, the individual acquired slightly more than 40 thousand dollars.  


Unlike rent, or the electric bill, purchasing food is a decision made daily. We make 200 decisions about what we are going to eat each day.  What we eat, where, when, why all play a faction in our decision making process, but are not always at the forefront of the mind.  How much we spend on food, however, is one decision that individuals consciously make.


For anybody, but especially the poor, affordability can play a critical role in the decision of what to purchase at the store or restaurant. Unfortunately, a life time of limited or poor dietary decisions can have remarkable consequential effects.  Some health based consequences include: "obesity, tooth decay, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, depression, eating disorders" - Sa.gov. Other consequences include the hindrance of child growth development or create additional pressure on children to work and drop out of school. 


Low-income families face an excess of barriers to healthy and filling diets. The journal of Public Health Nutrition labels attitudes and behavior towards access, availability and motivation to eat fruits and vegetables as obtrusive obstacles to overcome in fighting food insecurity.