Goals of the Workshop
Key Messages Noted by Participants
In the first session of the workshop, Steven Carlson, director of the Office of Research and Analysis at U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Service, which sponsored the workshop, laid out the objectives for the 2.5-day meeting. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has a two-part mission, he said: (1) FNS seeks to ensure that people have the resources they need to acquire enough food and (2) FNS works to ensure that program benefits are aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and that the people served have the knowledge, skills, and motivation to make healthful choices. Both of these goals lie at the core of the relationship between food insecurity and obesity.
The day before the workshop, the Economic Research Service at USDA released its annual report on household food security in the United States (Nord
et al., 2010). The report observed that at some point during 2009, more than 17 million households in the United States had difficulty providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. In more than one-third of these households, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted because of limited resources.
The prevalence of food insecurity in 2009, although high compared with levels over the past decade, did not change dramatically between 2008 and 2009, despite significant growth in unemployment and poverty during that period. “That underscores the important role that federal nutrition assistance programs play in helping to prevent food insecurity,” said Carlson. The largest of these programs respond rapidly and automatically to changing conditions, both in the lives of individual families and in the economies of communities. Currently, USDA programs serve roughly one in four people in the United States. In August 2010 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), reached more than 42 million people. In addition, more than 31 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program, with two-thirds of them receiving a free or reduced-price meal, and more than 9 million people participated in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Even as demands for food assistance have grown, governments at all levels and the private sector have grappled with an equally dramatic increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity (defined in Box 2-2). The main objective of the workshop was to understand the relationship between food insecurity and obesity in the low-income populations that nutrition assistance programs are designed to serve in an effort to help identify a research agenda that would increase our understanding of their coexistence. The presenters and other workshop participants were asked to identify information gaps, consider alternative approaches to analyzing data, think about new data that need to be collected, and address the limitations of the available research. “We’re not expecting a consensus to emerge from the discussions over the next two and a half days,” said Carlson. “But I want to challenge each of you to help us avoid following the easy path. I want to challenge you to think hard about building a logic model of the relationship between food insecurity and obesity that can highlight the critical questions that we need to be asking, and [then] identify approaches that might be used to address those questions.”
Nord, M., A. Coleman-Jensen, M. Andrews, and S. Carlson. 2010. Household food security in the United States, 2009. Economic Research Report No. 108. Washington, DC: Economic Research Service.