Researchers say focus must shift from “food security” to “nutrition security”

Samantha Higgins/World Central Kitchen

Researchers from Tufts University and Georgetown University are calling for a new approach to address food and nutrition inequities, in a new viewpoint published in the journal JAMA.

In the 1960s, a national focus in the United States on hunger was essential to address major problems of undernutrition after World War II. In the 1990s, the nation shifted away from hunger toward "food insecurity" to better capture and address the challenges of food access and affordability.

In the current article, the authors argue that today's health and equity challenges call for the U.S. to shift from "food insecurity" to "nutrition insecurity" to catalyze appropriate focus and policies on access not just to food but to healthy, nourishing food.

The concept of food security focuses on access to and affordability of food that is safe, nutritious, and consistent with personal preferences. In reality, however, the "nutritious" part often has been overlooked or lost in national policies and solutions, with resulting emphasis on quantity, rather than quality, of food, say the authors.

"Food is essential both for life and human dignity,” said Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen

Every day, I see hunger, but the hunger I see is not only for calories but for nourishing meals. With a new focus on nutrition security, we embrace a solution that nourishes people, instead of filling them with food but leaving them hungry," said co-author Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, in a statement.

The authors define nutrition security as having consistent access to and availability and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being, while preventing, and, treating if needed, disease. Nutrition security provides a more inclusive view that recognizes that foods must nourish all people, the authors said.

"The current approach is not sufficient," the authors write, and "traditionally marginalized minority groups as well as people living in rural and lower-income counties are most likely to experience disparities in nutrition quality, food insecurity, and corresponding diet-related diseases."