dren and adults, and differences that exist by gender, age, and race/ethnicity. They provided an introduction to many of the issues discussed during the remainder of the workshop, including the relationship of food insecurity to stress, the relationship between food insecurity and health outcomes, and the role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal nutrition assistance programs. The speakers also suggested future research directions. Box 2-1 defines a number of terms related to food insecurity that were discussed during the workshop.

The literature on this relationship is “really mixed,” said Mary Story, professor and associate dean at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, who moderated the session. Some studies show that there is a positive association between food insecurity and obesity; others do not. What accounts for this discrepancy, Story asked, and what are the strengths and limitations of the current research?


Food security exists when “people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 1996). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors food security as an ongoing measure of the effectiveness of federal nutrition assistance programs, private food assistance programs, and other public-private initiatives in reducing the food insecurity of low-income households. “Food insufficiency” and “food insecurity” are related but distinct concepts. Food insufficiency is defined as an inadequate amount of food intake due to a lack of resources (Briefel and Woteki, 1992). Food insecurity is the ability to access sufficient, safe, and nutritious foods in socially acceptable ways (FAO, 1996). Food insecurity describes a “broader condition” that includes food insufficiency and additionally psychological and other qualitative aspects of the food supply and food intake (Casey et al., 2001).

Prevalence of Food Insecurity

Prior to 2008, food insecurity for all households in the United States hovered between 10 and 12 percent, with a higher prevalence among Latino and African-American households (Figure 2-1). The prevalence, however, increased sharply in 2008 to almost 15 percent, with the most recent measures showing a continuation of that high level (Nord et al., 2010). “The economic downturn has had an impact on food insecurity,” said Barbara Laraia, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

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