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ASN Journals Investigate Food Insecurity Part Two: Solutions

Part One of this blog post explored ASN journals’ contributions to our understanding of the physical and mental health outcomes associated with food insecurity.  In this second part we look at solutions—from designing food support programs to developing fortified foods—to see what has the potential to reduce, and perhaps even eradicate, food insecurity and its negative impacts on health.  No single study has all the answers, but, as you’ll see, each one contributes to our ability to tackle food insecurity.

Studies published in ASN journals have investigated food and nutrition support programs, finding mixed results with regard to their efficacy in alleviating food insecurity and its consequences.  Published in March 2001 in The Journal of Nutrition, “Understanding Needs Is Important for Assessing the Impact of Food Assistance Program Participation on Nutritional and Health Status in U.S. Elderly Persons” reported that “food assistance participants had similar or poorer nutrient intakes, nutritional risk, self-reported health status, hospitalization rates and mortality rates…than did nonparticipants.”

A June 2019 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition, “Measurement of Fruit and Vegetable Intake Using Skin Carotenoid Measures Among Individuals Receiving Aid from Food Pantries,” echoed the findings of The Journal of Nutrition study.  ASN member Heather Valentine et al. reported that “on average, the food agency clients reported eating 1 cup of fruit per day and 1.4 cups of vegetables per day, which fell far below recommendations set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The food stamp program is associated with food security and preschoolers’ micronutrient intake.

On the other hand, “Food Stamps Are Associated with Food Security and Dietary Intake of Inner-City Preschoolers from Hartford, Connecticut,” published November 2000 in The Journal of Nutrition, found that supplemental nutrition assistance was associated with improved intakes of vitamin B-6, folate, and iron among preschoolers whose families were enrolled in the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to ASN member Rafael Pérez-Escamilla et al., “these results suggest that the food stamp program is associated with food security and preschoolers’ micronutrient intake.”

…strongest evidence to date that food stamp program participation plausibly has beneficial effects for children on non-nutritional outcomes.

Furthermore, “Food Stamp Program Participation Is Associated with Better Academic Learning among School Children,” published April 2006 in The Journal of Nutrition, found that starting food stamp program participation during the four years between kindergarten and third grade was associated with roughly a three-point greater improvement in reading and mathematics scores.  ASN member Edward A. Frongillo et al. noted, “this study provides the strongest evidence to date that food stamp program participation plausibly has beneficial effects for children on non-nutritional outcomes, specifically academic learning.”

Published August 2019 in Current Developments in Nutrition, “Building Healthy Community Relationships through Food Security and Food Sovereignty,” points out that a food support program’s success may hinge on its ability to reflect the culture and traditions of its target community.  ASN member Treena Delormier et al. discussed how teachings from the Native American Haudenosaunee community were integrated into a successful food support program, creating “a framework for a culturally rich program to support food security skills and resources, but also Indigenous cultural identity and practices.”

Another Current Developments in Nutrition study, “Improving Health while Alleviating Hunger: Best Practices of a Successful Hunger Relief Organization,” published September 2018, identified additional factors that contributed to the success of a food support program.  Among these factors, Brett Rowland et al. pointed out the need for removing stigma and empowering clients.  As an example, the authors discussed how the Samaritan Community Center rebranded their food pantries as “markets.”  In addition, the center transitioned to a “client-choice” model, enabling clients to choose their own food, rather than accept prepackaged assortments.

The development and implementation of food support programs is one approach to battling food insecurity.  Another approach focuses on boosting nutrient intake through the improvement of overall dietary patterns or the introduction of particular fortified foods.

 “A Lebanese Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Is Associated with Lower Food Insecurity among Lebanese Adolescents: A Cross-Sectional National Study,” published June 2019 in Current Developments in Nutrition, found that adolescents from food-insecure households in Lebanon were more likely to follow a Western dietary pattern.  ASN member Lamis Jomaa et al. worked with a sample of more than 1,200 Lebanese households.  The authors concluded that helping food-insecure households transition to a more traditional Lebanese-Mediterranean dietary pattern, with its higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains, would “promote better dietary quality and prevent risk of chronic diseases.”

Consumption of these improved beans resulted in higher iron intake and higher total absorption.

Published April 2020 in Advances in Nutrition, “Can Improved Legume Varieties Optimize Iron Status in Low- and Middle-Income Countries? A Systematic Review” presents evidence that consuming iron-fortified legumes (i.e., improved legumes/beans) improves iron status.  Linet N. Mutwiri et al. noted that “consumption of these improved beans resulted in higher iron intake (14.5 mg/d compared with 8.6 mg/d from nonimproved beans) and higher total absorption (1.06 mg/d compared with 0.79 mg/d from nonimproved beans).”  This review also noted the potential of fortified beans to enhance cognitive performance.

Delving deeper into ASN journals collections, you can find more studies that point to possible solutions to food insecurity.  ASN will continue to support and disseminate research related to food insecurity to find solutions to this growing worldwide threat to human life and well-being.

Eric Graber

Eric Graber is a freelance copy writer and marketing consultant, working primarily for publishers and professional associations in science and medicine.  He has a BA in Spanish Literature from Columbia University and an MBA in marketing from NYU Stern School of Business.

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