In 2019 Arkansas was ranked number 50 in food insecurity. One in seven people face hunger. One in five children face hunger. You can definitely say that Arkansas faces significant food insecurity. There is, however, a related issue that has not received as much media attention.
Nutrition insecurity in Arkansas is not limited to simply not having enough food to eat. Many communities lack access to nutritious foods, particularly in rural areas. The lack of supermarkets and grocery stores in these areas, also known as food deserts, can make it difficult for families to access fresh produce, whole grains, and other healthy foods.
Nutrition insecurity is a term used to describe a situation in which an individual or household lacks consistent access to nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate food. It combines not only the quantity of food available but the quality, variety, and nutritional content of that food.
Unlike food insecurity, which focuses on access to any type of food, nutrition insecurity emphasizes the importance of access to nutrient-dense foods that promote overall health and well-being.
While nutrition and food insecurity are related concepts, the two have important differences. Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food to meet basic needs for an active, healthy life. It can be caused by a lack of financial resources, limited access to healthy food, and inadequate transportation or mobility. Food insecurity can lead to malnutrition, poor health outcomes, and chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
On the other hand, nutrition insecurity focuses on the quality and adequacy of the food that is available. A person or household may be nutritionally insecure even if they have access to sufficient food if the food they have access to is not nutritionally adequate.
For example, a person who has access to high-calorie, low-nutrient food may be overweight or obese but still suffer from malnutrition due to a lack of key vitamins and minerals.
In contrast, a person who is food secure may have access to a variety of healthy foods but may still be at risk of malnutrition due to factors such as poor food storage, preparation practices, unwillingness to eat healthily, or lack of proper nutrition education.
According to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, 17% of Arkansas households live in poverty. Many individuals and families must make difficult choices between paying for rent, utilities, and other essential expenses, or buying food. Unfortunately, the least expensive foods are usually unhealthy.
Arkansas also faces limited access to healthy food options in food deserts. In these areas, residents often must rely on fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, or other sources of processed food. This can have long-term negative impacts on their health and well-being.
The consequences of nutrition insecurity can be severe and long-lasting, particularly for children.
A lack of access to nutritious foods can lead to malnutrition, which can affect physical and mental development. Children who are malnourished are at greater risk of chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease later in life.
The solution that Well Fed and our partners are working toward is to increase access to healthy foods and nutrition education in underserved areas. We do this through initiatives like mobile grocery stores, food boxes, and food prescription programs. Additionally, we work with legislators and community leaders to make funding available and to change policies that do not promote nutrition security.
Here are a few practical things you can do to help:
And you can always talk to Well Fed staff, local community leaders, or dietitians to see how you can help someone struggling with nutritional insecurity.
“We are fortunate to work with many state and local organizations, growers, and grocers to impact communities in need.”