The American Dietetic Association has published an updated position paper on food insecurity in the United States, calling for funding for food and nutrition assistance programs, increased nutrition education and efforts to promote economic self-sufficiency for all households and individuals.

The paper calls access to food "a basic human need and fundamental right," defining food insecurity as "limited or intermittent access to nutritionally adequate, safe and acceptable foods accessed in socially acceptable ways."

According to ADA's position paper, food insecurity is prevalent throughout the country: More than 49 million people living in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2008. In addition, 5.7 percent of all households representing 17.3 million people including 1.1 million children, had "very low food security," defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake."

ADA's position paper was written by registered dietitian David H. Holben, professor of nutrition and director of the didactic program in dietetics in the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness at Ohio University.

The paper, published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, represents ADA's official stance on food insecurity in the United States:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that systematic and sustained action is needed to achieve food and nutrition security for all in the United States. To eliminate food insecurity, interventions are needed, including adequate funding for and increased utilization of food and nutrition assistance programs, inclusion of food and nutrition education in such programs, and innovative programs to promote and support individual and household economic self-sufficiency.

"In children, adolescents and adults, negative nutrition and non-nutrition-related outcomes have been associated with food insecurity including substandard academic achievement, inadequate intake of key nutrients, poor health, chronic disease risk and development, and poor psychological and cognitive functioning," according to ADA's position paper.

Households receiving food from emergency food providers such as pantries, kitchens and shelters "appear to be particularly vulnerable to food insecurity," according to ADA's position. However, nearly 70 percent of food-insecure households do not use a pantry, "despite knowing of availability of one in their community."

ADA's position recommends "adequate funding for and increased use of food and nutrition assistance programs, as well as innovative programs to promote and support economic self-sufficiency...Registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered can encourage clients to access existing programs providing food and nutrition assistance, social services and job training as an immediate intervention. RDs and DTRs can also partner with key stakeholders in the community to build local food systems and reduce hunger."