Nutrient Intakes of Food-Insufficient and Food-Sufficient Adults in the Southern Region of the United States and the Impact of Federal Food Assistance Programs

Year: 2000

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Connell, Carol L., Kathy Yadrick, Agnes W. Hinton, and Joseph Su

Institution: The University of Southern Mississippi

Project Contact:
Carol L. Connell, MS, RD
The University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5054


In this study, Connell et al. examined food insufficiency, nutrient intake, and food and nutrition assistance program participation among a Southern population using NHANES III data. Five research questions guided their analysis:

  1. Do food-insufficient adults have significantly different nutrient intakes than food-sufficient adults after controlling for other influences such as education level, smoking status, age, gender of the household head, and body size?
  2. What is the association between food insufficiency and nutrient intakes among these adults?
  3. Are there significant differences in the nutrient intakes of food-insufficient adults based on participation in food assistance programs after controlling for other influences?
  4. Does the number of food assistance programs influence nutrient intake?
  5. What is the association between participation in food assistance programs and nutrient intakes among these adults?

Previous studies of the impact of food insecurity and hunger on food and nutrient intakes, using both primary and secondary data, have revealed lower intakes of several nutrients among women of childbearing age, the elderly, poor Caucasian women in the Northeast, and low-income Canadian women. However, little has been done to define the food insecurity-related nutritional problems of specific regions of the United States such as the South. The authors argue that factors unique to the South, and to particular regions within the South, warrant the investigation of the effects of food insecurity on nutrient intake in this region. In addition, no published studies have attempted to determine the impact of food assistance programs on the nutrient intakes of individuals from food-insecure households in the South.

Connell et al. used data on adults 18 years and older, residing in the Southern region of the United States, for their analysis. They classified individuals as food insufficient if the household food supply was reported as “sometimes” or “often” not enough to eat (n=456, or 6.3 percent of the sample). To examine differences in nutrient intakes between demographic groups and to determine the effect of food sufficiency status and participation in food and nutrition assistance programs on nutrient intakes, they used several statistical techniques, including tests for differences in means, analysis of variance, and multiple regression.

The authors found significant demographic differences between food-sufficient and food-insufficient adults in their sample. Those most often reporting food insufficiency were young, non-White, had low levels of formal education, lived in female-headed households, or participated in only one food/nutrition assistance program.

Food-insufficient adults not participating in any food assistance programs had significantly higher incomes than program participants did. Adults with more formal education were less likely to participate. Adults in female-headed households were most likely to participate in two programs; adults over 60 were least likely to participate in any food assistance programs. Significantly lower intakes of four nutrients were found among those participating in only one food assistance program compared with those not participating, but not between those participating in one program vs. two programs or in two programs vs. no program.

The authors found a significant positive relationship between food insufficiency and percent of total calories from carbohydrates. They found a significant negative relationship between food insufficiency and intakes of 10 nutrients. Intakes of two nutrients increased with program participation.

Connell et al. caution that because the NHANES survey is intended to be nationally representative, their ability to generalize results to the Southern region is limited. In addition, regional differences in diet may not be well represented in the data because the Southern sample was drawn only from sites in Florida and Texas. However, their findings generally agree with those of other studies using national survey data (for example, lower intakes of some nutrients among the food insufficient). Two exceptions are a higher percentage of calories supplied by carbohydrates in the sample as a whole, and a positive relationship between food insufficiency and percent of calories from carbohydrates. The authors suggest that future research investigate whether these results are influencing micronutrient intakes in the Southern population. Higher sodium intake found among program participants also deserves further investigation due to the possible adverse effects of high-sodium diets on health.

Connell et al. argue their findings emphasize the importance of food and nutrition assistance programs in continuing to promote access to affordable and nutritious food for low-income families. In addition, continued emphasis on nutrition education, such as that provided by WIC and the Family Nutrition Program, may help to improve food choices and therefore nutrient intakes. The authors suggest this will be a fruitful area for behavioral, educational, and program evaluation research in the future.