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Foodbank Vietnam

How Food Insecurity Affects Human Health

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that in 2018, over 820 million people were hungry and 2 billion people were food insecure. The difference between hunger and food insecurity is that hunger is the discomfort or pain caused by not having enough energy from food, while food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to safe and nutritious foods. Food insecurity exists on a scale depending on how frequently it occurs. In general, it can be chronic or transitory, depending on if it has been a long-term issue or a temporary one, respectively. Those who are hungry are considered chronically food insecure. 

The FAO uses the Food Insecurity Experience Scale to measure food insecurity. Source: http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/

Food insecurity can be caused by various factors, such as not having markets or stores nearby, poverty, natural disasters (e.g. drought, floods, etc.), and political policies and conflicts. In Vietnam, climate change and natural disasters pose a large threat to agricultural land, which will affect the volume of food produced and how much money farmers will earn. Poor crop production will hurt farmers by worsening both their food and economic security. Some food insecure communities are considered “food deserts” because there is limited access to food, while other communities are considered “food swamps” because they are overflowing with unhealthy foods that can cause health problems, like obesity. It is important to note that despite the number of hungry people in the world, over one-third of food is wasted each year. This food waste is enough to food to feed more than all the hungry people, which highlights how ultimately, food insecurity is about increasing access to healthy food, not an insufficient amount of food.

The agricultural industry helps provide some economic security for farmers, but threats from climate change affect what types of crops they can grow. Source: http://www.mrcmekong.org/topics/agriculture-and-irrigation/

Inconsistent and unreliable access to safe and nutritious food can cause undernourishment, leading to long-term consequences on a person’s physical and mental health. Undernutrition can cause delays in physical and mental development, such as stunting and being underweight. First, hunger and the stress of not having enough food can dominate and distract people. Being hungry can make people feel weaker and lower their productivity in work and school, which could affect their wages and grades. For food insecure children, those feelings can distract them from paying attention in school, which would affect how well they learn. This prevents them from reaching their full academic potential and can affect their future opportunities, too. In addition, when families struggle to afford food, they often need to make sacrifices like affording new clothes, supplies, or even medicine. It can also lead to a cycle of food insecurity, disease, and poverty.

Food insecurity can lead to a cycle of poverty and health issues. Source: https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/hunger-health-101/

By not having enough nutritious food, people are also at a higher risk of getting sick and developing chronic diseases. For instance, many food insecure people may purchase more processed foods than fresh foods because they are often cheaper and can last longer. Even though processed foods can provide enough energy, they are too processed to provide enough nutrients to form a healthy diet. Eating too much processed food can lead to developing chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Food insecurity can lead to malnutrition in different ways. Source: http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/2018/en/

Addressing food insecurity could help prevent many long-term health consequences and provide better lives for everyone. Although it seems like an overwhelming issue, there are small steps that each person can make to improve food security. One way is to buy food from local farmers and grocers, which helps support them and their efforts. You can also get to know your local market vendors to learn about how their food is grown and to ensure you are getting quality food. Another small way to help is to join cooking classes. Not only can those classes teach new recipes and cooking techniques, they can also spread awareness for the importance of nutritious eating and food security. Lastly, volunteering at food drives hosted by food banks can directly fight food insecurity in vulnerable or underprivileged populations because the food banks help redistribute the food and money donations to those who in need.

Farmers markets can be places to make more community connections and get local access to quality produce. Source: https://www.asialifemagazine.com/vietnam/saigon-outcast-farmers-market/

Scarlett Cheung - Foodbank VietNam