Public Health Nutrition Editorial Highlight: ‘Influence of sociodemographic characteristics on different dimensions of household food insecurity in Montevideo, Uruguay’  Máximo Rossi, Zuleika Ferre, María Rosa Curutchet, Ana Giménez and Gastón Ares.

Food security occurs when “all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. It is a multidimensional concept that involves four hierarchical dimensions: physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food utilization, and stability of the previous dimensions over time.

Measuring household food insecurity provides an estimate of its underlying causes and contributes to the development of intervention strategies and policies to alleviate its consequences. Scales for measuring food insecurity as experienced by individuals are increasingly used for this purpose. In the present work, the Latin American & Caribbean Household Food Security Scale (ELCSA) was used to evaluate food insecurity in a cross-sectional survey with a representative sample of households from the metropolitan area centered on Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay (South America).

Food insecurity was estimated in 39%, indicating that it is still an important problem. Having children in the household increased the prevalence of food insecurity by 28%.  The high prevalence of poverty among households with children in Montevideo might explain its higher prevalence. In 2014 the percentage of children living under poverty conditions in Uruguay was 20%, while poverty prevalence among adults aged 65 years and over it was only 2%.

Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was used to evaluate the factorial structure of the scale. Two factors were identified in the EFA performed on data from households without children, whereas three factors were identified for households with children. The identified factors were associated with different severity levels of food insecurity.

Likelihood of experiencing different levels of food insecurity was affected by individual characteristics of the respondent as well as characteristics of the household. The deprivation index, a proxy variable to measure household income, was the strongest predictor of all the dimensions of food insecurity. This result stresses the importance of implementing social programs aimed at increasing the availability of money for food purchase in vulnerable households. In this sense, it is interesting to highlight that results showed that severe and intermediate food insecurity was higher in those households that received social food programs, which indicates that these programs are being adequately targeted at the most vulnerable population.

Educational level was the strongest predictor of household food insecurity when considering the individual characteristics of the respondents, in agreement with several studies that show that the most vulnerable people to food insecurity has usually the least number of years of education.

Further research should be conducted to improve our understanding of the variables that can reduce vulnerability to food insecurity in the Uruguayan context and to identify the most effective public policies that can help to cope with this problem.

The full article ‘Influence of sociodemographic characteristics on different dimensions of household food insecurity in Montevideo, Uruguay’ is available to download for free until 21st November 2016.

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