What does “food security” mean?
Although there are several different working definitions of food security, all of which have evolved over time, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations currently uses the following description: “Food security exists when all 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.” FA similar definition has also been adopted by the US, though in a more limited form. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s definition of food security is, “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” F Food security comprises several different components, including food access, distribution of food, the stability of the food supply, and the use of food. F The opposite of food security - food insecurity - is defined by the USDA as, “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” F Food insecurity is part of a continuum that includes hunger (food deprivation), malnutrition (deficiencies, imbalances, or excesses of nutrients), and famine. Long-term lack of food security eventually becomes hunger, defined by the USDA as “an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.” On a population level, extreme lack of food security becomes famine. The United Nations rarely declares famine status, even in cases of long-term food insecurity, since its definition of famine is quite specific – famine is declared only when “at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.” F Malnutrition can be caused by food insecurity, but can also be caused by poor health, poor care for children, or an unhealthy environment. F In the US, the term “food desert” is often used to describe a location that has limited access to healthful, nutritious food, especially in low-income neighborhoods. FFor example, individuals in some neighborhoods may have easier access to fast food and junk food than to fruits and vegetables. FHowever, there is some disagreement on what constitutes a food desert (i.e., what is an acceptable distance from a source of healthful food, such as a supermarket), and it is unclear whether true food deserts are as common as postulated by policymakers. F F Others see the term as being not inclusive of other issues related to health and obesity, including: poverty and other socio-demographic factors; ease of access to healthful food, rather than lack of access; increased access to unhealthful food choices; exercise/physical activity; and unhealthful food choices related to cultural or economic factors. F F F How many people are food-insecure? Who is food insecure?
The USDA reported that 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during 2010. FOf the 14.5 percent that were food insecure, 5.4 percent were classified as having very low food security (defined by the USDA as “reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake”). FHowever, in households with children, the USDA reports that over 20 percent were food insecure in 2010. FGlobally, food insecurity is more difficult to measure. In 1999, the FAO estimated that over 1.2 billion people were chronically food insecure (i.e., undernourished). FAsia, including the Indian sub-continent, was the most food insecure region, with 642 million undernourished people. Over 15 million of the undernourished were in developed countries. F Certain groups are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, including women (especially low income pregnant and lactating women), victims of conflict, the ill, migrant workers, low-income urban dwellers, the elderly, and...
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