Do we need to be aware of food insecurity?
Written by Georgia Spence - Registered Nutritionist @gspence_nutrition
What is Food Insecurity?
In the United Kingdom, millions of individuals (including children) experience household food insecurity- which means that they have a limited access to food due to a lack of resources, and other barriers. This often means that both adults and children may be forced to skip meals, eat less and/or consume poorer quality food. In the UK certain groups have been identified to be at greater risk of food insecurity, these include: people who are Black, Asian, and minority ethnic, lone parents, asylum seekers, disabled people, and people who have “No Recourse to Public Funds”. Typically people who are on a lower income are more at risk of food insecurity, however COVID-19 has shown that this is not always the case.
What is the Current Picture?
The latest Food Foundation report, which is based upon surveys from March 2020-Janurary 2021 (Covid-19 era) (Food Foundation 2021) highlights the need for support and services to tackle this national concern. In this time period 4.7 million adults and 2.3 million children in the UK have experienced food insecurity (Food Foundation 2021). That equates to 9% of adults and 12% of families with children (Food Foundation 2021). This research also highlighted that 41% of families whose children were in receipt of free school meals experienced food insecurity from March 2020-Janaury 2021.
In relation to specific groups who have been identified to be more at risk several notable differences were highlighted. Those individuals limited “a lot” by health problems or their disability are 5x more likely to experience food insecurity that those with no health problems/ disabilities. Individuals who are severely clinically vulnerable are x2 more at risk of experiencing food insecurity compared to average, food sector workers are 1.5x more at risk that non-food sector works, and members of the BAME community are x2 more at risk compared to white British individuals. More than anything these inequalities highlight the need for inclusive service provision and support as well as the need for change.
What Causes Food Insecurity?
Sadly some of you reading this have experienced or will experience food insecurity. But why? There is the preconception that food insecurity only happens to “poor” people, which as Covid-19 has highlighted is not the case- it really can happen to anyone. Circumstances can change, for numerous reasons which can flare up a level of great uncertainty.
Those individuals who took part in the Food Foundation surveys from March 2020-January 2021 disclosed why they felt they had experienced or were experiencing food insecurity. The reasons are as following: 55% disclosed it was because they did not have enough money, 31% said it was because of isolation, 23% said it was a lack of supply, and 8% said it was because of other reasons (Food Foundation 2021). This information correlates with the information that 22% of all UK households have seen a reduction in their income since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am in no way saying Covid-19 is a positive influence on food insecurity- it most certainly has increased rates of food insecurity and general uncertainty in the UK. However, rates of food insecurity pre-COVID were still not 0%, in fact 7.6% of households over a 12 month period pre-COVID experienced food insecurity (Food Foundation 2021). As a result, we can infer that food insecurity will continue post-COVID unless effective changes are made.
Is There a Link Between Food Insecurity and Eating Disorders?
Recent research involving adults, found that food insecurity is cross-sectionally associated with higher levels of the following: overall eating disorder pathology, binge eating, compensatory behaviours, binge-eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa (Becker et al 2020). There is evidence to suggest there is similar relationships among adolescents, however this evidence is less robust, however there is considerably less research opposed to studies in adults (Becker et al 2020).
This emerging evidence emphasises the need for further eating disorder research to include marginalised populations who have historically been overlooked (Becker et al 2020). Further to this, considerably more research is required to better understand the complex relationship between food insecurity and eating disorder pathology in order to determine effective ways in which to intervene (Becker et al 2020).
Access to secure food is a basic human right and a basic need that we all need.
In the UK there is a large amount of stigma surrounding food insecurity. Individuals faced with food insecurity often feel a large amount of shame and embarrassment, which can cause them to stay quiet and suffer in silence rather than reaching out and seeking help from the various service provisions available. It was found that stigma and the negative feelings surrounding seeking help can often lead people not to access vital help. In January 2021 42% who experienced food insecurity, in the Food Foundation survey, did not try to get help- with numerous of these individuals saying this was due to stigma and shame.
Stigma largely exists due to poor knowledge, and a lack of empathy. As mentioned prior in this blog post, food insecurity really can happen to anyone! It is a sad reality and whilst change in terms of service provision and Government policy needs to happen there also needs to be a change in society in terms of our beliefs, in short stigmatisation needs to stop.
1. Food Foundation (2021) A Crisis Within A Crisis: The Impact of Covid-19 on Household Food Insecurity [online]. Available from Food Foundation https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/FF_Impact-of-Covid_FINAL.pdf [assessed 25/05/2021].
2. Becker et al (2020) Food Insecurity and Eating Disorders: a review of emerging evidence [online] available from Pub Med https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7596309/ [assessed 25/05/2021].