University of Delaware
Maureen Black of the University of Maryland discusses food insecurity during the inaugural Foltyn Family Health Sciences Lecture.

Hidden hunger in America

Food insecurity is global and national problem, Maryland professor says


12:07 p.m., Dec. 9, 2013--Some 100 people turned out on Monday, Dec. 2, to hear pediatric nutrition expert Maureen Black, professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, share her knowledge about food insecurity and its links to poor physical and mental health, low academic achievement, and increased hospitalization rates.

Food security refers to both quantity and quality of food, so in essence it means having access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In the U.S., 16 million children live in food-insecure households.

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The talk, which was the inaugural Foltyn Family Health Sciences Lecture at the University of Delaware, attracted a wide audience including members from the Food Bank, the SNAP education program, and UD faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students.

“When we think about hunger, the images that come to mind are those of starving children in developing countries,” said Mia Papas, assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition. “Dr. Black’s talk touched upon global issues of malnutrition, but also challenged the audience to think about hunger issues that exist within our own country.”

Black presented a wealth of scientific evidence on the importance of adequate nutrition, especially for children during the most vulnerable period of life: the first 1,000 days, which spans from conception to age two.

“This is an incredibly fertile time for brain development,” she said. “This is a time when we want to invest and invest wisely.”

Black said that food insecurity is often invisible, especially in America where the problem tends to be episodic rather than chronic. 

Ironically, food insecurity in the U.S. is linked to obesity, according to Black. “Those who are food insecure typically choose foods with lower nutrient density because those foods are less expensive,” she explained.

Black also discussed the importance of programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which provide low-income families with assistance to purchase food and decrease food insecurity. 

“We were very pleased to have Dr. Black as the inaugural speaker to share her expertise,” said Kathi Foltyn, who along with her husband Ted endowed a fund to support the Foltyn Family Health Sciences Annual Lecture. “It was impressive to see so many people in attendance for her discussion highlighting the far-reaching consequences of malnutrition, an important topic.”

“There is great need for creative, strategic, and holistic approaches to key health topics that will enable us to work together for the good of our communities,” Foltyn added. “We are hoping that these lectures will encourage conversation and perhaps solutions to some of our most interesting and challenging health issues. We are also hoping that they encourage collaboration among the many colleges within the university, as many of the issues we face today require multifaceted solutions.” 

About the lecture

The Foltyn Family Health Sciences Annual Lecture is made possible by the generosity of Theodore J. Foltyn and Kathi Hetrick Foltyn, both members of UD’s Class of 1981. The couple established this endowed fund in February 2013 for the purpose of recruiting outstanding speakers to deliver the most up-to-date, relevant information to the campus community on topics such as behavioral health, nutrition, wellness, and disease prevention.

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos by Evan Krape

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