Ensuring that all Connecticut residents and households are food secure is a critical public health goal, and a new University of Connecticut study highlights how much work remains ahead to achieve that goal. The research, from the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, was conducted by Rebecca Boehm, Jaime Foster, Jill Martin and Rigoberto Lopez, and was published earlier this year.
Studies of low-income populations in the U.S. find that food insecurity is associated with poorer diet quality, which has implications for health. At the same time, rates of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases in Connecticut have risen steadily since the late 1990s, the researchers point out.
Consequently, the primary objective of the report was to describe the prevalence of food insecurity and obesity across Connecticut’s diverse population and towns. The data led to key findings including:
4% of Connecticut households reported having insufficient funds to purchase food in the last 12 months (defined as food insecure for this report).
Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other non-white households were more likely to be food insecure compared to White and Asian households.
Households with children <18 years old were more likely to be food insecure.
Rates of food insecurity were highest in Connecticut’s urban centers and in some rural areas.
In reviewing obesity rates, the researchers noted:
6% of Connecticut residents surveyed reported being overweight (36.0%) or obese (25.6%).
Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other non-white survey respondents were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to White and Asian survey respondents.
Incidence of overweight and obesity was substantially more widespread across Connecticut’s towns than food insecurity.
Incidence of overweight was consistent across income classes, but obesity incidence was substantially lower for higher-income respondents.
The researchers noted that “between 2015 and 2017, 12.2% of Connecticut households reported being food insecure, only a negligible difference from 2014-2016. By comparison, between 2011 and 2013, 13.4% of Connecticut households reported having low or very low food security. The state-level decline in food insecurity in Connecticut is encouraging, and it is important that this state-level indicator continues to be tracked by federal agencies.”
They add, however, that “It is also important to determine which Connecticut sub-populations are most at risk of food insecurity since food insecurity has implications for diet quality, health, and quality of life. To date, only state-level estimates of food insecurity exist for Connecticut, which does not allow for an examination of where food insecurity is concentrated in the state’s population, information that could be critical in targeting at-risk populations.”
Regarding obesity levels in the state, they point out that “in 2016, the adult obesity rate climbed to 26.0%, compared to 21.8% in 2010. Rates of obesity (excluding overweight) also increased among Connecticut high school students, from 10.2% in 2009 to 12.3% in 2015. Rates of other diet-related diseases among adults, such as diabetes and hypertension, have also increased in Connecticut over the last several years.”
They indicate that “there is limited information on which populations in Connecticut are most at risk of obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases, while noting that 9.8% of adults in Connecticut have diabetes and 30.4% have hypertension.
The Charles J. Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy provides quantitative and policy-oriented economic research on problems confronting the food system and natural resources to improve the functioning of markets and related government policies, and to advance and disseminate knowledge that impacts public policies to improve society's welfare.
Rebecca Boehm, PhD is an economist with the Food and Environment Program at Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington D.C., and previously a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Zwick and Rudd Centers at the University of Connecticut. Jaime Foster, PhD is Senior Director of Community Partnership and Programs at the Connecticut Food Bank and formerly a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Rudd Center. Jiff Martin is Associate Extension Educator for UConn Extension. Rigoberto Lopez, PhD is the Director of Zwick Center and professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UConn.
For the full report, see the Zwick Center Outreach Report No. 54 available at: www.zwickcenter.uconn.edu. Self-reported data on household food insecurity and the household respondent’s body mass index (BMI) collected in the DataHaven 2015 Community Wellbeing Survey were used to conduct the analyses presented in this report.