Coming home to hunger

Charlie Plain | May 8, 2014

When we think of soldiers returning from the wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan, most of us imagine them coming home to a secure lifestyle. But according to a new SPH study, one in four veterans face a new type of struggle.

Photo Credit: MarineCorps NewYork

“We found that 27 percent of these veterans reported being food insecure,” says Rachel Widome, an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health. “That’s nearly double the prevalence of food insecurity in the general U.S. population.”

Food insecurity is the inability to access a sufficient amount of food for a healthy lifestyle and nationally it’s estimated to affect 14.5 percent of the general population.

“This is a group of people who served our country and it’s really unacceptable that after their service, they’re struggling to afford enough food for their households,” says Widome.

The startling results come from Widome’s behavioral health study of 2,000 men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001.

The study also found people who report being food insecure tend to get less sleep, report using cigarettes, be unemployed, not be married or partnered, and have lower incomes.

Widome points out that the various challenges in one’s life can be mutually reinforcing and trap the veterans in a vicious, life-eroding cycle.

“If you’re feeling stressed all the time about getting food, then it’s probably harder to get enough sleep or focus on finding a job, which in turn makes it more difficult to afford food,” she says.

As for a solution, Widome suspects it might be a matter of increasing awareness of this dire problem so veterans in need are connected with help in the short-term. She also says it’s important for those individuals and groups who work with veterans to focus on connecting them with employment opportunities that can provide a livable wage.

“The good news is that there are organizations and governmental agencies that are dedicated to working with veterans,” says Widome. “Part of the solution is connecting veterans with food assistance programs like Minnesota’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which can alleviate food insecurity.”

Find the study, “Food Insecurity among Veterans of the US Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” online in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

~ Post by Charlie Plain

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