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University of Michigan researchers published a study in September 2022 finding that food insecurity is a risk factor for all forms of cardiovascular and cardiometabolic disease, except for coronary artery disease. 

Eric Brandt, a clinical instructor at Michigan Medicine and lead author of the report, said the study looked at national data from 1998 to 2018 to test how frequently food insecurity was reported among people who also reported having cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes, heart attacks or heart failure.

“We saw that food insecurity among those with cardiovascular disease was actually very common,” Brandt said. “(Food insecurity) was reported in about two in five people, or about 40%, which was about twice as much as reported among those that don’t have those diseases.”

In a clinical setting and for the purposes of the study, food insecurity was defined by an 18-question survey created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Brandt added that food insecurity can also be described as a lack of access to a sufficient quantity of affordable food.

“Food insecurity is when you don’t have enough money to meet your needs, or you run out of food and you can’t fulfill your food needs,” Brandt said.

Keith Soster, director of sustainability, student & community engagement at the Maize and Blue Cupboard, said 30 to 34% of U-M students struggle with food insecurity. 

“One of the biggest misconceptions about food insecurity at the University is that students can afford to be here,” Soster said. “The reality is that many pay for tuition but have little left over.”

The Maize and Blue Cupboard offers free groceries and educational programs on quick and nutritional recipes for anyone with an Mcard. Soster said in the past year, the average number of shoppers has increased from around 450 to 700 each week. This is consistent with the global rise in food insecurity due to the culminating effects of COVID-19, inflation and the ongoing war in Ukraine. The state of Michigan falls above the 75th percentile for healthcare costs associated with food insecurity, according to the Food Security Council.

The Food Recovery Network (FRN), which was founded in 2012 and is the largest student-led movement fighting food insecurity in the country, collaborates with the Maize and Blue Cupboard to combat food insecurity on the U-M campus. The U-M chapter of FRN recovers surplus food from dining halls and local farms that can be donated to the Maize and Blue Cupboard. 

LSA senior Amelia Popowics, director of marketing and communication for the U-M chapter of FRN, said the group is working to make more nutritious food and groceries accessible to students.

“One thing that we’ve really wanted to incorporate more is to get fresh produce into the hands of food-insecure people,” Popowics said. “That’s really driven our recent effort in the last year. We’ve started recovering from farms … that’s been amazing; that all goes to the Maize and Blue Cupboard. It’s 200 or so pounds of produce per week, and there’s a really great variety, like zucchini and squash, eggplant, green beans, okra, tomatoes.”

Brandt said he hopes the study will bring awareness of risk factors such as food insecurity to clinical settings. 

“My hope with this (research) from a clinical perspective is that people will think more about screening for social determinants like food insecurity, especially because these types of social determinants may have as much or more of an impact on health outcomes than the traditional things that we think about in the office,” Brandt said. “They are things that can be addressed.”

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