Food security, a key component for sustain life and health
Food is an essential requirement for human health, yet more than 30% of the world population is suffering from food insecurity. Developing countries are more particularly concerned by food insecurity but also by low life expectancy and health-related issues. A recent work assessed the association between the four pillars of food security (i.e., availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability) and health in 56 developing countries. According to this work, the four dimensions have a positive and significant relationship with health outcomes. Income and education are positively associated with health while poverty has a deleterious impact. The authors highlight the need for governments to provide equal support to all four dimensions to promote better nutrition and health.
In 2020, 2.4 billion people, or above 30% of the world’s population, were moderately or severely food-insecure, lacking regular access to adequate food (United Nations, 2023). Yet, food is an essential requirement for the sustenance of human life as each of the food groups provide a variety of nutrients for body’s growth, reducing disease risk and promoting good health.
Developing countries are mostly concerned by food insecurity and its impact on health, with 8.9% of developing countries facing food insecurity (WHO, 2021). Compared to developed countries, the average life expectancy of people who are born in developing countries is lower (80.5 vs 66 years in 2020) (World Bank, 2022). In addition to facilitating and capturing food production, food security also focuses on a person’s ability to consume sufficient and nutritious food on a sustained basis. Therefore, to achieve the objective of food security, all four pillars should be considered on how they are linked to health and should be satisfied simultaneously (Blaylock et al., 1995; Pinstrup-Andersen et al., 2009; FAO, 2016).
To investigate the association between food security and health, several studies (Gundersen et al., 2015; Stuff et al., 2004; Berkowitz et al., 2018) have used the general term “food insecurity” instead of the four dimensions of food security. To fill this gap in the existing literature, this study (Subramaniam et al., 2023) focuses on how each of the four dimensions of food security affects health conditions in 56 developing countries, using a comprehensive measure of food security for the period 2011-2019.
Food security is significantly associated with improved health among developing countries
The four dimensions of food security reveal a positive and significant relationship with health outcomes. This may be explained by the observed link between food security and a reduced risk of birth defects and hospitalization, as well as increased nutrient intake, all of which contribute to overall health improvements.
Increasing food availability has a positive influence on food consumption by expanding healthy food options and diet quality, which in turn, improves people’s health and well-being. An increase in food accessibility would also improve the intake of nutritious food such as fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy and therefore, may reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve individuals’ nutritional well-being (i.e., an individual’s food utilization containing all of the required nutrients).
Therefore, improved food security in terms of availability (i.e., more supply), accessibility, utilization of healthy food products, and stability (i.e., more certainty in production) facilitates the access of sufficient, and culturally appropriate and nutritious food to meet dietary requirement and preferences for a healthy life.
Income, poverty, and education affect health
Besides the four dimensions of food security, it was shown that income, poverty,and education affect health. More precisely, income was significantly and positively associated with health in developing countries, while poverty has deleterious effects on health outcomes. People with higher income were found to be healthier whereas those with lower income unhealthier. This may be explained by the fact that higher income improves people’s ability to access nutritious and safe food, lowering their risk of chronic disease and allowing them to live longer. On the contrary, people living in poverty are more vulnerable to disease and death because they cannot afford proper nutrition, clean water, proper sanitation, and hygiene facilities.
In addition to these two variables, education has a positive and significant effect on health outcomes in developing countries, which is consistent with results of other researchers.
Governments need to provide equal support to all four dimensions of food security to promote better health
Based on the findings of the present study, governments in developing countries should promote the progressive realization of the right to adequate food and enable collective actions that address the four pillars of food security and nutrition while keeping equality and non-discrimination.
Moreover, governments need to consider how domestic policies influence the four dimensions of food security. For instance, a redesign of national policies and guidelines on food availability as well as the other three pillars must be implemented in order to achieve a win-win situation for the development of food security.
Based on: Subramaniam Y, Loganathan N, Tang CF. Effect of Food Security on Health in Developing Countries. Int J Soc Determinants Health Health Serv. 2023 Apr 10:27551938231163991.
“Food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition has widely established the four pillars of food security:
- Availability: The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid)
- Accessibility: Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economic, and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources).
- Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security.
- Stability: To be food secure, a population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g., an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g., seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security.
- The nexus between food security and health was examined using a balanced panel dataset of annual observations from 56 developing countries from the period 2011–2019.
- Data on health (represented by life expectancy at birth, total in years), income (denoted here as the GDP per capita in constant 2010 U.S. Dollars), education (represented by Gross Enrolment Ratio, % total enrolment), and poverty (described here in term of Population Below Poverty Line, % total population) were collected from the world development indicators published by the World Bank.
- A dynamic panel two-step system GMM was employed as an efficient estimation method as this method is appropriate for finite and small sample sizes.
- Food security is significantly associated with health in developing countries, showing that an increment in food security will improve health.
- A rise in 4 dimensions of food security (availability, accessibility, utilization, stability) facilitates the access of sufficient and culturally appropriate and nutritious food to meet dietary requirement and thus, improve health.
- Governments in developing countries should promote the progressive realization of the right to adequate food and enable collective actions that address the four dimensions of food security.