Why the difference between food security and nutrition security matters

In the 1960s, a national focus on hunger was essential to address the growing problem of nutrition disparity and undernutrition in general. In the 1990s, the nation shifted away from characterizing the root cause of these issues as “hunger” and moved toward utilizing the expression “food insecurity” to better capture and address the unique challenges of food access and affordability.

“Today, widespread health and equity challenges call for the U.S. to shift from food insecurity to nutrition insecurity in order to catalyze appropriate focus and policies on access not just to food but to healthy, nourishing food”, according to a Tufts University study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association

Food security focuses on access to and affordability of food that is safe, nutritious, and consistent with personal preferences. In reality, however, the “nutritious” aspect of the equation has long been overlooked or lost in national policies and solutions, with resulting emphasis on quantity, rather than quality, of food.

Expanding access to healthy food

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Open Hand Atlanta and collaborative partners Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Meals On Wheels Association of Georgia, and Georgia SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), food insecurity in Georgia decreased 28% in the four years prior to the pandemic from 15.7% to 11.3% of households. And while food insecurity has been severely impacted by COVID-19, food security has been and will continue to be at the forefront of the state’s – and indeed the country’s – consciousness.

Now, the same can be said for nutrition security.

While it continues to be a challenge for those dealing with chronic disease (Georgia has among the highest levels of cardiovascular disease risk factors in the nation) and in turn for the state’s healthcare system which bears the burden of caring for them, significant progress has been made in addressing nutrition security, and in making it a major health priority. As one of the country’s foremost community-based nutrition agencies serving medically fragile individuals, Open Hand Atlanta is leading the way.

Building on a track record of evidence-based impact

Given compelling research confirming the high value proposition of Medically-Tailored Meals (MTM) and nutrition education interventions coupled with years of advocacy at the federal level, Open Hand is now poised to respond to new opportunities born from the integration of food and nutrition services into population health management strategies.

“By prioritizing nutrition security, we bring together historically siloed areas — hunger and nutrition — which must be tackled together to effectively address our modern challenges of diet-related diseases and disparities in clinical care, government food and food assistance policies, public health investments, and national research.” – Sheila Fleischhacker

This research has documented the improved health outcomes for patients and cost savings for managed care organizations and health plans that were achieved when a medically-tailored nutrition intervention is provided for individuals battling chronic disease. 

“It’s the right time for this evolution,” said Sheila Fleischhacker, adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, who has drafted food, nutrition and health legislation and campaign positions at the local, state, tribal and federal levels.

Encouraging 2020 outcomes even in a challenging year.

In spite of severe interruptions in the supply chain due to the pandemic, Open Hand worked diligently to maintain the nutrition standards that power our Medically-Tailored Meals – the foundation of our evidence-based nutrition interventions for the most vulnerable in our community. These challenges aside, Open Hand clients continued to report significant improvements in their health and quality of life in 2020: 40.2% had fewer emergency room visits; 46.1% spent fewer days in the hospital; 20.3% found it easier to take their medication; 20.3% reported improved cholesterol; 64.6% reported that they maintained or improved their blood pressure; and 71% maintained or improved their blood sugar.

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