food insecurity (2)

Prioritizing Nutrition Security in the US

sliced carrots and green bell pepper on brown wooden chopping board The prevalence of nutrition-sensitive conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes has increased substantially in the US during the past 30 years. These conditions, combined with other diet-related ones such as cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers, are associated with the majority of morbidity, mortality, and health care spending nationally. Simultaneously, income inequality has increased, with accompanying self-reported food insecurity disproportionately affecting individuals with lower incomes. Food insecurity has been defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, and in 2019 was estimated to affect 10.5% of US households.1 Food insecurity and poor nutrition are closely linked: individuals who report being most food insecure also have higher risks of developing obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, stroke, cancer, and associated conditions, even after adjusting for other risks such as age, sex, employment, marital status, race/ethnicity, smoking, insurance status, family size, education, and income.2

For decades, US policies to address hunger and food insecurity have focused largely on providing sufficient calories or quantities of food. However, effectively addressing the current diet-related challenges in the US will require a shift beyond these concepts to the broader concept of nutrition security. Addressing nutrition security, which can be defined as having consistent access, availability, and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being and prevent (and if needed, treat) disease, may be the next needed approach to inform clinical care and public policy.

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Bar chart illustrating which foods were most difficult to buy in shops, supermarkets, and online grocery services. Dry goods is the highest, followed by tinned food.

      3 key ways the pandemic impacted access to food 

  1. There was a lack of clarity about how much food people needed to buy.
  2. The pandemic made more people unable to afford food.
  3. Foodservice and hospitality businesses and their suppliers are going to feel the effects of lockdown for years.

EFRA's key recommendations to fix the problem 

1.Ensuring people can afford enough healthy food is the responsibility of multiple Government departments. To bring that work together, the Government should appoint a Minister for Food Security who is empowered to draw together policy across departments on food supply, nutrition and welfare.

2.The Government should work with producers, processors and wholesalers servicing the hospitality and foodservice sector to monitor the health of food and drink suppliers as supply chains restart.

3.The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) should continue to provide £5 million in annual funding to FareShare to redistribute surplus food from farms and across the supply chain to frontline food aid providers for a further two years. This would help those who struggle to afford food as the effects of the pandemic continue, and reduce food waste from farms.

4.Food supply to supermarkets continued because we were able to keep food coming into the country. Future crises could stop this flow and cause more serious problems. The Government has to update its food resilience plans, taking into account how consumer behaviour can disrupt food supply and whether our efficient "just-in-time" supply chains are as resilient as they need to be.

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