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Publication | 2019

Rural women: Most likely to experience food insecurity and poor health in low- and middle-income countries

Food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2001). This definition highlights the fact that simply acquiring sufficient food is not synonymous with being food secure, as the quality of food is an essential aspect of food security, and a diverse diet of culturally appropriate foods is required to maintain health. Being in a position where access to safe and nutritious food is compromised can lead to negative health consequences and affect one's overall well-being.

Food security is a complex concept which makes it challenging to measure. No tool can accurately address the multiple dimensions of food security simultaneously. Until recently, the majority of global food security research has relied on the use of the “Food Balance Sheets approach. For many purposes, however, this method provides insufficiently detailed information, as it estimates per-capita availability of calories at the national level but fails to take into account nutritional quality or disparities in distribution and consumption of those available calories (Hadley and Maes, 2009).

In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) began monitoring food security globally by including the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in the Gallup World Poll (GWP), an annual survey conducted in over 140 countries.1 It also serves as one of the two indicators selected to monitor Target 2.12 of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2016). As an experience-based measure, the FIES is unique in that it directly measures individuals’ access to food by asking about their experiences facing food insecurity (FIS) due to lack of money or other resources (Ballard et al., 2013).