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When households go hungry, their members experience a range of effects, including stunted growth, a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, and lowered mental health. In a recent study, Sanjeev Kumar, a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, sought to understand household food insecurity in a high-migration area in rural Honduras. Kumar was interested in exploring food insecurity as a critical factor influencing people’s mental and overall health. “People can explore local opportunities in the neighborhood when their basic needs are being met. When people lose their health, they are more risk-seeking,” Kumar said, discussing the high level of migration from the Central American region.
The study, conducted in collaboration with Yale professors Nicholas Christakis and Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, surveyed respondents about how often they worried about their household running out of food and how often their household had actually run out of food in the last three months. Respondents who had a larger social network or who lived in multi-generational families in the same village tended to be more food secure, likely because they could rely on others for support in times of need. Interestingly, affiliation or non-affiliation with a religious community network did not have a significant difference in the probability of experiencing food security, even though those social networks could theoretically provide support like that of an extended family.
The researchers’ findings also shed light on groups of people who have been historically excluded from studies on household food insecurity. For example, Indigenous people and those intending to migrate were found to have higher odds of experiencing food insecurity. Widows were also twenty-five percent more likely to be severely food insecure.
There is still much more work to be done to improve global food security, especially in rural communities like those in the study. Though food insecurity is designated as a sustainable development goal by the UN, less than one percent of global aid is allocated toward improving undernutrition. Kumar’s goal is to understand how focusing on nutritional security as a critical part of the healthcare policy initiatives can better support people living in rural villages—to know “what it will take for all of us to live in a more sustainable world,” Kumar said.
Kumar has a novel approach to this: deepening our understanding of the biological mechanisms behind the propensity to commit acts of violence within communities. He plans to further this research by investigating how household food insecurity affects early childhood breast-feeding practices—and in turn, their long-term effects on the structure of social networks and the propensity for violence. “It is critical to create a convincing, cohesive narrative to improve awareness of household food insecurity around the world,” Kumar said.