Food Insecurity Defined

After reading my blog posts, several people have commented to me that they are unfamiliar with the term food insecurity, as was I until I started reading about hunger and poverty.  The commenters felt that they would better understand my points if they had a good working definition of the term.  Food security was initially used and defined at the 1974 World Food Conference in reference to global food conditions.  The concept of food security has been refined over the years and the current definition has been in use since the 1996 World Food Conference.  Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. 

In a household, food security means that all members of the household, at all times, have access to the necessary food to meet the requirements of an active, healthy lifestyle.

At the end of the 1980s anti-hunger activists began using the concept of food security and started substituting food insecurity in place of hunger.  Food insecurity is now widely used by individuals and organizations involved in assisting those who do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.  This broader conceptualization of hunger encompasses the physical sensation of hunger and the coping strategies households use to prevent hunger.   Food insecurity refers to a household’s situation, not an individual’s situation.  For instance, children living in a household experiencing food insecurity may not experience hunger, but parents may eat smaller portions or skip meals so that their children rarely go without food.  Food insecurity may not be a constant state, as households may only experience inadequate access to food at certain times of the month or even year.  Consequently, food insecurity is measured over a period of time, usually a year.  Additionally, there are two levels of food insecurity–low food security and very low food security.  A state of low food security involves little or no indication of reduced food intake, but does include reduced quality or variety in diet.  Households reporting very low food security experience multiple instances of disruptive eating patterns and reduced food intake.  Using the term food insecurity allows for the examination of both the household’s situation and the distress members of the household are under as a result of not having a reliable and secure source of food.


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