People of color, women, and those with health conditions are most likely to experience hardship.
Up to 24 percent of US military veterans are estimated to be affected by food insecurity—a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food—and a new study found that risks are significantly higher for people of color and women.
It also found that veterans with medical and trauma-related conditions as well as unmet social needs like housing instability are more likely to experience food insecurity.
For the study, researchers at Brown University and the Providence VA Medical Center analyzed data with a focus on revealing the characteristics of veterans at the highest risk of food insecurity. If researchers know what populations to target, tailored interventions can be developed to address their needs and mitigate the long-term impacts of food insecurity on health and well-being.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for addressing veteran food insecurity,” says corresponding author Alicia Cohen, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine and of health services, policy, and practice (research). “So findings from studies like this can be used in many ways, from helping to identify the most at-risk groups to helping address veterans’ immediate food need to connecting veterans with programs and resources that can hopefully help improve their food security over the long term.”
Cohen says that many veterans face economic and employment challenges following military service, stemming both from service-related mental and physical health issues as well difficulty reintegrating into civilian life—factors that can increase the risk of food insecurity.
Yet food insecurity is often missed in clinical settings, says Cohen, who is also a primary care provider in the women’s health clinic and homeless clinic at the Providence VA Medical Center. “You can’t tell by looking at a patient if they’re struggling to put food on the table,” she says.
And like civilian patients, veterans often will not initiate a conversation with their health care provider about their food insecurity.
“If we don’t specifically ask veterans about their food needs, we are going to be missing people who are experiencing hardship,” Cohen says. “There are a number of resources within the VA and in the community to help address food insecurity, but we can’t offer these resources if we don’t know that a veteran is in need.”