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Food security vs. nutrition security — What's the difference?

While the terms food security and nutrition security represent the same overarching goal of fighting hunger, they address two different sides of the same coin.

May 27, 2021

Food security vs. nutrition security — What's the difference?

Even though we have put quite a deal of thought into food access, hunger, and nutrition over the past several thousand years, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the greater health care community began to coalesce around a formal concept of “food security."

Although the definition has evolved over time and varies from source to source, “food security” generally describes the concept of reliable, consistent access to fresh, affordable food. Likewise, the opposite term “food insecurity” describes a lack of access to that same food.

However, some experts are trying to shift the focus from food security to nutrition security. On April 1, 2021, a trio of authors published a Viewpoint article in JAMA that makes the case for a renewed focus on nutrition security in the public discussion, which they believe could help in our ongoing efforts to protect against nutrition-sensitive conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and others.

This would represent a subtle yet significant shift in how we perceive nutrition’s role in whole person care. Whereas food security was coined in response to broadly negative outcomes like malnutrition and hunger, nutrition security refines the focus to specifically preventing (and in some cases, treating) nutrition-sensitive conditions.

In essence, this new distinction draws a line between ensuring access to food in general and ensuring access to the right food.

As an example, for those individuals living with kidney disease or dialysis, sustaining any sort of renal deficiency, whether chronic or acute, comes with a unique and complex set of dietary needs. Many food items considered healthy in other diets — avocados, whole wheat bread, bananas, and tomatoes, to name a few — contain elevated levels of potassium, phosphorus, and sodium, which in excess could harm individuals living with a renal condition. Research shows even just proper sodium management alone can help hemodialysis patients improve many key health markers.

In a scenario like this, you’d see how someone with reliable access to foods like these might be considered food secure on paper, but when you throw a specific chronic condition into the mix, the end goal becomes nutrition security. This thinking becomes useful when managing not just renal conditions, but other ongoing health characteristics like diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, cancer, maternity, obesity and more.

Despite their differences, food security and nutrition security will continue to be vital considerations.

Learn more about how Mom’s Meals® can support the needs of a variety of chronic health conditions.