Clinical Implications of Household Food Security: Definitions, Monitoring, and Policy


Reprint requests to John T. Cook, PhD, Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, Division of General Pediatrics, Maternity Bldg., 4th Floor, 91 E. Concord St, Boston, MA 02118-2393. Email:


Poverty-related food insecurity is a reality that many clinicians in nutrition and health care encounter either directly or indirectly. It is associated with both overnutrition and undernutrition, but it is not congruent with malnutrition. Food insecurity affects human development and health throughout the lifecycle, but can be particularly harmful during critical or vulnerable stages early and late in life. Understanding the causes and consequences of food insecurity and knowing how to identify them can improve the quality and effectiveness of clinical care, and facilitate prevention and treatment of many kinds of health problems. Numerous public policies and programs exist to ameliorate and prevent poverty-related food insecurity. However, the resources to support them ebb and flow with the politics of annual state and federal budgetary cycles. Support and need for these social-safety-net programs also vary with business cycles. Unfortunately, need often expands as support shrinks along with employment and government revenues during recessions, and shrinks as support expands along with employment and government revenues during expansions.