By: Madison Boissiere, Undergraduate Student in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
What is Food Insecurity?
Unfortunately, food insecurity is a common issue among many active-duty members, veterans, and military families. Food insecurity can be defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. According to a recent study, “estimates of food insecurity among veterans vary widely, ranging from 6% to 24%—nearly twice that of the general US population”.
Moving from base to base forces many active-duty members and their families to rely on a single income since it can be difficult for spouses to find a steady job while moving around so frequently. Even when there are two incomes, it can be hard to pay for personal necessities, including food. For veterans, it can be difficult to find work, especially when coming home with mental or physical disabilities.
Cost of Food Insecurity
Food insecurity is attributed to malnutrition, recent homelessness, depression, as well as decreased control of hypertension, diabetes, HIV, and depression. Therefore it is no surprise that those who are food secure see an increase in healthcare costs. Costs related to food insecurity include:
● Longer hospital stays
● Higher hospital readmission rates
● Higher hospital costs per patient
● Higher home healthcare needs
● Higher mortality rates
Ways To Eliminate Food Insecurity
Although food insecurity is a harsh reality for many, there are a number of opportunities to prevent and eliminate it.
● Educating and training RDNs and military officers on bases and in the Veterans Administration health care system to identify food insecurity in military members as well as advocating for food assistance programs.
● Connecting with local programs such as food pantries to get veterans and service members the resources they need.
● Raising awareness for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
● Donating to food shelters and programs dedicated to fighting food insecurity.
The Veterans Affairs Recommends These Tips for Shopping on a Budget:
• Buy groceries after you eat to avoid buying unnecessary items.
• Stick to your grocery list and avoid aisles that don’t have what you need.
• Find and compare unit prices listed on shelves to get the best price and buy store brands if cheaper. Buy items in bulk or family size since they are usually cheaper
• Choose fresh fruits and vegetables in season and buy canned vegetables with less sodium as well as canned fruits without added sugars.
• Refrigerated or freezer foods often last longer and can be healthier options
• Use coupons and look out for sales
For more information on resources to promote food security, visit https://www.nutrition.va.gov/Food_Insecurity.asp and tune into the Military Families Learning Network webinar, “Resources for Addressing Food Access for Military Families” at https://militaryfamilieslearningnetwork.org/event/69322/.
Cohen, Alicia J et al. “Food Insecurity Among Veterans: Resources to Screen and Intervene.” Federal practitioner: for the health care professionals of the VA, DoD, and PHS vol. 37,1 (2020): 16-23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7010340/.
“Food Insecurity Among Active-Duty Service Members and Veterans.” Eatrightpro.org, www.eatrightpro.org/advocacy/legislation/all-legislation/food-security-veterans.
“Food Insecurity.” US Department of Veterans Affairs, 1 Apr. 2020, https://www.nutrition.va.gov/Food_Insecurity.asp