Food Insecurity and Mental Health: An Unexplored Global Health Concern – February 2nd, 2020 (Academic Reflection)

Science Sundays is a free lecture series that hosts discussions and symposiums based on a wide variety of emerging issues and science that impact us every day. Each speaker is obviously an expert in their field and the opportunity to converse with them after the event is one to be taken. In my opinion, programs hosted by Science Sundays here at The Ohio State University are a very cool resource to engage both students as well as the community on topics that are making an impacting the world. That being said, my favorite of these speakers has been Barbara Piperata: an associate professor of Anthropology at OSU who researched a plethora of issues that overlap with concepts of International Affairs as well as Biology and Public Health.

Although I have seen Professor Piperata speak before at an IA meeting, I was entranced by her studies, so when presented with the opportunity to go to a lecture of hers, I was stoked! A good portion of the discussion was focused on her research in Nicaragua and the Brazilian Amazon which focused on food security, lactation, and the ways socioeconomic conditions and cultural practices interact to shape the formation of the infant gut microbiome. Many of these issues arise from the instability of the household, workforce, economy, family, etc. One thing I found particularly interesting about this discussion was that these places never lacked the resources to obtain the food; the food was there, the world has enough food. However, the people do not have the means to acquire that food, whether it be location, money, or the way to acquire the right foods for what they need.

The research conducted by Professor Piperata was astounding:  she found that 25% were food secure, 50% were low insecure, and 25% were high insecure. Additionally, she observed from in home interviews with women and the data collected through survey,  she found that women in mildly insecure households have a 43% higher rate of mental distress, and women in moderately/severe insecure households are 2x as likely to have anxiety and/or depression. There are a few things that can buffer and reduce this issue, such as parental advising, social groups, etc., but interestingly enough, the spouses were of little help to the issue. There is a quite a social stigma regarding asking for help, so these women often believe that asking for help is a failure to their one duty: to be a mother. Piperata also brought up important issues regarding how this data is relevant to our own community: there are 40 million people in the U.S. who are food insecure, and 16.5% of people in Franklin County do not know where their next meal will come from.

Overall, this event was very impactful on a personal level. It really brought to my attention an issue that I didn’t realize was so impactful on a community, and exposed me to how my own actions could help. It overlapped with many themes of studying cultures other than our own, but also remained relevant no matter what part of the world we are in. I think Professor Piperata’s research will remain applicable and relevant to communities all over the world, and like she said, it’s not an issue of not having food, but rather the means to retrieve it.

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