Produced by Gregory Smith

How Food Insecurity Affects Health

By: Gregory Smith

Men, women and children of all ages and geographic locations suffer from not knowing where their next meal is coming from or when they may get to eat again. One of the major impacts of food insecurity is the profound influence it has on the health of the people that suffer from it.

Many who are food insecure, do have access to food, but it is calorie-dense or high-energy dense food. In fact, many have limited access to nutritionally-dense food. “The difference between calorie-dense and nutritionally-dense food is that if I had two items on a plate, the calorie-dense food would take up the same space in the stomach as the nutritionally dense food.” Dr. Maria Elena Hallion, professor of health and exercise science at Cabrini College said, “But it’s mostly made up of calories; where it would be low in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. A nutritionally-dense food, with the same amount of weight and fillage in the stomach, is going to have more vitamins, minerals and other things the body needs to function properly.” These calorie-dense food options can be the go-to items for those that suffer from food insecurity because of their low-cost and high caloric value. However, there are a number of health risks that can come with eating processed food products. Barbie Izquierdo, hunger advocate and ‘A Place at the Table’ food insecurity documentary contributor, gave insight into how food insecurity and inexpensive, processed foods impacted her health, “what people don’t know is that I have Type II diabetes. And I contribute it to the fact that I was in so many situations where I couldn’t eat at all because I had to provide for my kids, or I had to eat whatever I could find just so I had something to eat.” Izquierdo said. “People are getting food, but they’re not able to afford the food they need to remain healthy, so it’s actually making them sicker.”

Obesity plagues many that are food insecure, particularly children, who may only be able to eat whatever their parents can provide. Many resort to eating Ramen noodles, chips or burgers from the dollar menus to fill their stomachs. This is due to a restricted choice in food options.  In fact, economic situations can prevent people from buying the foods that provide optimal nutrition and force them to buy what will give them the highest caloric value for their money, namely, foods that are high in salt, fat and sugars. Three meals a day of this type of food, combined with little to no physical activity, can result in an increase in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues that stay with people their entire lives, all because of their inability to afford more nutritious food.

Next: Meal Analysis