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The Hidden Signs & Dangers of Food Insecurity

food insecurity gatekeepr

What role can Gatekeepers play in addressing the psychological effects of food insecurity on individuals and communities?

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity is when an individual or household lacks consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Various factors, including poverty, unemployment, low wages, and high food prices, can cause food insecurity.

Food insecure people may not have access to enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs and may experience hunger or malnutrition as a result. They may also have to decide between paying for food and other necessities like housing and healthcare.

Consider the following 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition statistics: 

  • 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million people more from a year earlier and 150 million more from 2019. 
  • Around 2.3 billion people in the world(29.3 percent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the COVIDā€‘19 pandemic. Nearly 924 million people (11.7 percent of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.
  • The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 - 31.9 percent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 percent of men – a gap of more than four percentage points, compared with three percentage points in 2020.
  • Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it. 

What is the impact of food insecurity on the brain and body? 

Food insecurity can significantly impact the brain, particularly for children and young adults. One of the primary ways that food insecurity can affect the brain is through malnutrition. Individuals without access to healthy and nutritious food may not get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients their brains need to function correctly. This can lead to cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, and other developmental problems.  

What is the impact of food insecurity on mental well-being?

Individuals who experience food insecurity may be more likely to experience chronic stress and fatigue, leading to changes in brain structure and function over time, contributing to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, cognitive impairments and other adverse outcomes. 

Food insecurity can underpin shame and be a stigma for individuals affected. Food insecure people may feel embarrassed or guilty about their inability to provide enough food for themselves or their families, particularly in a culture that places a high value on self-sufficiency and independence.

This sense of shame and stigma can be a significant barrier to seeking help and support for food insecurity. Individuals may feel that they are somehow responsible for their situation or that they will be judged or looked down upon if they seek assistance.

Consider how food insecurity affected Tanya.

Tanya, a single mother of four children who worked full-time (and babysat on Saturdays for extra cash), was accepted into her company's "rising talent" cohort. One of the bonuses for being chosen was free coaching. Tanya's coaching sessions were twice a month for six months with me. Tanya determined she was an Enneagram Type 1, and it was obvious she worked hard. 

Over time, her story began to unfold, and I became acquainted with all her life demands, including financial demands. At one point, she shared she was skipping lunch to keep up with the children's school supplies, groceries, medical bills, and school loans. After hearing her concerns, I asked her, "What do you need now to help reduce your stress?" 

Tanya stated, "Groceries."

This information mattered to me. Tanya was a high performer, yet the stress of being unable to provide enough food and limiting her food was taking a toll on her mentally and physically.The shame ran incredibly deep. In my role as a coach, I could help her identify what food insecurity does and what shame is. For us to meet the goals Tanya wanted for herself, we had to consider getting some support for her.

We brainstormed ways to increase her food for her family without working more. We found a great therapist who took her on using a sliding scale.  

Shame makes you keep secrets. And secrets hold you captive to isolation. 

Tanya needed someone to help identify food insecurity in her life and collaborate on how to solve that problem so she can focus on the fantastic employee that she is.

It is also essential to recognize that food insecurity is often the result of systemic inequalities and economic hardship rather than personal failings or shortcomings. Tanya's food insecurity began after her divorce, with her ex not paying child support. When I acknowledged to Tanya the social and economic factors that contributed to her family's food insecurity, Tanya could work to reduce shame and stigma, she felt validated and not judged by me—she began to soar.

Finally, it is crucial to listen to the voices and experiences of individuals impacted by food scarcity and to work collaboratively to develop solutions informed by their perspectives and needs. 

As a Gatekeeper, you can begin to identify and take a comprehensive and inclusive approach to addressing the trauma associated with food scarcity. To learn more about the trauma associated with food insecurity, abuse, natural disasters, and more, use the form below to enter your contact details. 

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