Study Suggests Food Insecurity among OEF/OIF Veterans is Dramatically Higher than among General Population
While economic issues among Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been documented, less is known about how financial hardship is affecting Veteran households. Food security – or the consistent ability to access sufficient food for a healthy lifestyle – has been associated with many aspects of health, including weight gain, diabetes, and mental health issues. This study sought to document the prevalence and correlates of food insecurity among Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using VA data, investigators identified a random sample of 865 OEF/OIF Veterans (479 men and 387 women) who had served since October 2001 and who had at least one outpatient visit at the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System. Food security was ascertained using the U.S. Household Food Security Module: Six Item Short Form, which measures food security over the previous 12 months with items such as, "The food that (I/we) bought just didn't last, and (I/we) didn't have money to get more," and "(I/we) couldn't afford to eat balanced meals." Households with "low food security" report reduced diet quality but have little or no report of reducing intake. "Very low food security" households report multiple past-year impacts on their eating, and reduced food intake. Using survey and VA data, investigators also assessed income, demographics, service-connectedness, general health, and health-related behaviors (i.e., smoking, binge drinking, and physical activity).
- At nearly 27%, the prevalence of food insecurity among OEF/OIF Veterans in this study was dramatically higher than the U.S. prevalence of food insecurity (15% in 2012). In addition, Veterans reported very low food security at double the U.S. rate: 12% vs. 6%.
- Veterans were more likely to be food-insecure if they were younger, not married/partnered, and were not employed or on active duty. Food-insecure veterans also were more likely to use tobacco, report more frequent binge drinking, and slept fewer hours at night.
- Neither number of deployments nor having a service-connected disability was associated with reporting difficulty in accessing food, which would suggest that greater exposure to combat is not what links certain Veterans to increased risk of being food-insecure.
- While the survey response rate was relatively high (52%), there still may be important differences between survey responders and non-responders related to variables of interest.
- The U.S. Household Food Security Module: Six Item Short Form places households with "marginal food security" into the food secure category. However, there is evidence that marginal food security also may be a risk factor for chronic disease.
Dr. Widome was supported by an HSR&D Career Development Award (CDA 09-012). Ms. Jensen, Ms. Bangerter, and Dr. Fu (Director) are part of HSR&D's Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis, MN.
Widome R, Jensen A, Bangerter A, and Fu SS. Food Insecurity among Veterans of the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Public Health Nutrition May 8, 2014;e-pub ahead of print.