Dr. Daphne Hernandez, University of Houston - Food Insecurity

Mar 3, 2014

A staggering amount of Americans regularly face food insecurity.

In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Daphne Hernandez, Asst. Professor of Nutrition at the University of Houston, discusses the issues faced by food-insecure families and why the roots of the problem go further than pure economics.

Daphne Hernandez is an assistant professor of health and human performance at the University of Houston. Her research is focused on how family-related factors such as poverty and family structure influence food insecurity and food assistance program participation. She also examines how public assistance programs influence child and adult health outcomes. She earned her Ph.D. at Boston College.

About Dr. Hernandez

Food insecurity – the lack of access to healthy and affordable food – is a multifaceted problem that goes beyond the lack of financial resources needed to buy food.  It impacts all types of family structures but is most prevalent among single parent households.  Figures from the U.S. Census indicate most single-parent households are headed by women, making the issue of food insecurity an important area of focus in the scope of women’s health.

The complexity of food insecurity as a woman’s health issue can be seen through the lens of other public health issues, such as domestic violence and depression.  A study of nearly two thousand women indicated that those who experience domestic violence, whether physical, mental or sexual, were 44 percent more likely to be depressed—and depression impacted their ability to ensure a food secure household. Depression becomes then a key link that leads from domestic violence to food insecurity.  The mental and physical fatigue and feelings of helplessness brought on by violence may decrease a woman’s motivation to obtain and prepare healthy food.  The  fatigue and negative feelings not only impact her, and result in a multitude of public health concerns, but also impact her children’s development. 

Taking a systematic approach to address food insecurity is a different way of thinking about how to address public health problems related to women. It is an approach that addresses the long-term, public health related problems associated with food insecurity--and may be an important ingredient in improving the nutrition, health, and safety of mothers and their children, and redefine the hunger games.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.