Wisconsin may be the land of cheese and bratwurst, but more than 13 percent of Wisconsin residents who took part in a Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW) interview reported that they worried about going hungry in the past year. The results from about 3,000 study participants did not vary much between urban and rural areas of the state.

“This shows that food insecurity is a problem for a significant number of people across all regions of Wisconsin,” says Dr. Javier Nieto, senior author of the study. “Far from being predominantly an urban issue, a concern about not having enough to eat affects a significant proportion of the population in rural and even suburban areas.”

Natalie Guerrero, a medical student in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Medical Scientist Training Program, led the study. She said that primary care providers around the state should ask patients if they have enough to eat.

“Food insecurity is clearly an issue for many patients throughout the state of Wisconsin,” she says. “Health care professionals should assess their patients’ risk for food insecurity and its negative health implications.”

Key findings

Based on the survey, an estimated 740,000 or more Wisconsin residents worry about having enough to eat.

Nieto says the number is closer to 1.5 million, if a less stringent definition that includes “marginal” food insecurity is used.

The study was published in the August issue of WMJ, the journal of the Medical Society of Wisconsin.

The presence of food insecurity was based on the participant answering yes to the question: “In the last 12 months, have you been concerned about having enough food for you or your family?"

After adjusting for age, race, and gender, 13.2 percent of participants reported food insecurity. About 57 percent of the participants were female.

Food insecurity did not statistically differ between urban and rural residents: urban areas had 14.1 percent food insecurity, suburban had 6.5 percent and rural areas had 10.5 percent. The differences persisted even when accounting for level of economic hardship in the community.

Nieto is chairman of the Department of Population Health Sciences. Other authors of the study are Dr. Kristen Malecki, assistant professor of population health sciences, and Matthew Walsh, a researcher in the department.

About the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin

SHOW is part of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and has been in operation in Wisconsin since 2008, exploring individual health behaviors and choices, collecting physical measurements and biological samples, and considering healthy and unhealthy features of Wisconsin neighborhoods.

This study was funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program PERC Award (PRJ56RV), National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (5UL 1RR025011), and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (1 RC2 HL101468).