Food insecurity affects a quarter of all families in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in The Hague
Research by Leiden University, LUMC and the Public Health Department (GGD Haaglanden) in The Hague has shown that over a quarter of the families in the city who took part in the survey experience some form of food insecurity. Some families have too little money to make a healthy meal or are worried that there will be no money to buy food at the end of the month.
Food insecurity is the physical and economic access to adequate, safe and nutritious food. There is generally a plentiful supply of food available in the Netherlands, but these families in The Hague often have only limited economic access to healthy food. Families that suffer food insecurity say that they do not have enough money to eat healthily and that they worry that they will run out of food before they have money again.
The research was carried out by LUMC Campus The Hague, together with Leiden University College and GGD Haaglanden. The initial findings were published in the Epidemiologisch Bulletin (p. 19). ‘In this study we looked specifically at the disadvantaged neighbourhoods in The Hague,' says lead researcher Jessica Kiefte-de Jong. ‘These are neighbourhoods where people's health and wellbeing are below par. Given the high level of food insecurity, we suspect that this is also an issue outside these disadvantaged areas and that it warrants further research.'
Parents who experience food insecurity say that they feel less healthy. They also ate fewer fruit and vegetables and more often suffered from obesity. 'This was clear from the many discussions we had with people taking part in the study,' Laura van der Velde, PhD candidate and a member of the research team, explained. 'Many of the participants knew perfectly well what constituted a healthy diet, but they also talked about how difficult it is to follow a healthy diet when you don't feel good mentally or you are in a difficult situation. There is then too little energy to cook a healthy meal.'
Van der Velde: ‘And then there is also the problem that many of the parents who suffered food insecurity are single parents. They have all the responsibility for providing enough food for themselves and for the children. That can be extremely stressful.'
Further research will show the impact that food insecurity has on long-term health, but will also look at the effectiveness of nutritional and lifestyle interventions. The question is what impact the rise in VAT on food will be for these vulnerable groups. 'We know from previous research that price changes can have a serious effect on the consumption of, for example, fruit and vegetables,' says Kiefte-de Jong.
She sees this study as an initial step towards charting the problem of food insecurity. 'Ultimately we want to gain an insight into how these families can best be supported in adopting a healthy lifestyle, so that in time they will enjoy a high standard of health.'