What Is the Main Idea?

The authors of the open-access research article “Perspective: Food and Nutrition Insecurity in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities for Dietitians”, published under license in Kompass Nutrition & Dietetics, explore the complex challenges of food and nutrition insecurity and present dieticians as an ideal profession for being involved with screening, stakeholder collaboration, and research activities.

What Else Can You Learn?

You can learn about how both individual and geopolitical socioeconomic situations impact a person’s diet and nutrition. You can learn about broad-scoping EU and government projects that aim to reduce these complex problems.

Take-Home Message

It is commonly known that people living in low-income countries may have difficulty getting enough healthy food. But it is less known that people living in wealthy countries (like many countries in Europe) also have difficulty. People experiencing food and nutrition insecurity often suffer when they are not at fault. They need health, social, economic and political support to improve their wellbeing and future.

What Is Food Insecurity?

The authors describe food insecurity as “not having physical, social, and economic access to adequate, nutritious, and safe food that satisfies dietary needs and food preferences”. In other words, food insecurity means not having enough food that is suitable for your individual needs.

What Is Nutrition Security?

Nutrition security is healthy eating. It is when a person has enough suitable food to live (or grow up) healthily. If a person is able to eat healthily, they have nutritional sufficiency and nutritional security.

What Is Food and Nutrition Insecurity?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also use the term “food security”. This term connects access to food (food insecurity) with healthy eating (nutrition security). A person needs access to the right food in order to be healthy.

How Many People in Europe Experience Food and Nutrition Insecurity?

According to measurements in 2021, about 7 out of every 100 people in Europe were unable to afford a basic healthy meal in a 2-day period. Other studies suggest that up to 1 in 10 people cannot afford a healthy diet.

How Can Food and Nutrition Insecurity Be a Problem for Health and Wellbeing?

Food and nutrition insecurity is a worldwide problem. Babies and children experience illnesses and developmental problems that could be avoided. These health problems go on to affect learning (academic achievement), and social and relationship wellbeing in adulthood.

When compared with people without food and nutrition insecurity, children and adults with food and nutrition insecurity experience more disease such as heart problems, asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure. This has a knock-on effect on their mental and social wellbeing.

Why Is Food and Nutrition Insecurity a Problem in High-Income Countries?

  1. The food does not give nutrition security. Although there is high availability of food, this food is not necessarily healthy food. Also, problems with the maintenance of the supply processes can reduce availability of fresh food. Children and adults with food and nutrition insecurity eat foods with too much energy, saturated (“unhealthy”) fat, sugar, and salt.
  2. Access problems. For example, some people have difficulty with transportation to food, others may experience difficulty affording the food.
  3. Utilization problems. For example, some people do not have the skills or equipment to safely cook food, others do not know about healthy eating.

What Has Led to Food and Nutrition Insecurity in Europe?

Availability, access, and utilization have been affected by situations such as the 2008 economic crisis, the COVID pandemic, the Ukrainian conflict, and the rise in global inflation.

How Is Food and Nutrition Insecurity Measured?

Most European countries do not regularly monitor national food insecurity. However, there are some aspects of food and nutrition insecurity that have been measured:

  1. Economic measurements such as identifying numbers of people who cannot afford a meal with meat, fish, or vegetarian equivalent (that is, food that is key to a healthy diet).
  2. Measuring use of charity food banks (organizations where people can receive food for free). This does not give the full picture of food insecurity because not everyone will use a food bank.
  3. Social measurements that show the connections between food and nutrition insecurity and unemployment, low levels of education, or living situation.

What Is Being Done to Improve Measurement of Food and Nutrition Insecurity?

The FAO has issued a report that asks for better measurements of food and nutrition insecurity. In particular, measurements must take into account non-economic factors such as psychological and social impact and detailed diet information.

There are also several EU-funded projects that focus on measuring food and nutrition insecurity.

What Is Being Done to Reduce Food and Nutrition Insecurity in Europe?

  1. Welfare policies and food assistance programs. These are government-provided financial supports or initiatives such as food banks, soup kitchens and food vouchers. They help to reduce food and nutrition insecurity by focusing on the social and economic causes.
  2. The FEAD program. This stands for Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. It provides food and other basic necessities to those in poverty, across Europe.

How Can Dieticians Contribute to Reducing Food and Nutrition Insecurity in Europe?

Dietitians are food-focused health professionals. They work with individuals regarding their diets and eating habits. Dieticians can screen individuals for food and nutrition insecurity, and raise awareness. They can contribute to scientific research on food and nutrition insecurity. Many organizations have dieticians in their team, not just to treat individuals but to help with developing new approaches to healthy and sustainable food.

What Do I Do If I Think I Am Experiencing Food and Nutrition Insecurity?

You can speak to a healthcare provider about your concerns. They may be able to refer you for health assessment and dietician treatment. You can also look online, enquire at your place of education, or ask at your local government or charity organizations for social support or other welfare assistance.

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