SNEB Editorial – February 2023 | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

SNEB Editorial – February 2023

Posted by: on Sunday February 12, 2023

Supporting Food and Nutrition Security Among Migrant, Immigrant, and Refugee Populations
Betsy Anderson Steeves, PhD, RDN; Kelseanna Hollis-Hansen, PhD, MPH; Marissa McElrone, PhD, RDN
Habiba Nur, MS, MS, RDN; Matthew J. Landry, PhD, RDN, FAND


Socio-political conflict and environmental impacts of climate change are driving population movement across the globe. Migrants, immigrants, and refugees can be particularly vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity, as these groups are often dealing with multiple layers of trauma and complex challenges to successfully navigate systems to access much-needed food assistance. Migrants are people in the process of traversing geographies or settling in a location temporarily.

They often earn little to no income and face exceptional challenges to food security. For example, Central American migrants crossing through Mexico and the southern US border endure large stretches of dangerous terrain unsuitable to food retail. Researchers report that 55% to 74% of people making this journey report food insecurity in transit.

Surveys of migrant farm workers found 62% to 82% reported food insecurity, despite their work directly contributing to the US food supply.,

Few evidence-based strategies exist to support migrant food security. Suggested solutions include providing greater access to cooking facilities, transportation, assistance with childcare, and immigration policy reform,

that could make it easier for migrants to travel to, live in, and work in the US.

Immigrants may also move for work or educational opportunities, but unlike migrants, immigrants aspire to settle in the new place permanently.

Immigrants to the US have various experiences with food insecurity. Studies show that US immigrants from certain countries/regions such as Mexico and West Africa are less food secure than their native counterparts, whereas immigrants from India and China are more food secure.

Immigrants who are legally present in the US, such as green card holders, can access nutrition safety net programs; however, legislative efforts, such as the 2018 “Public Charge” rule create confusion, mistrust, and fear of using public benefits, even among those who qualify for them.

Solutions for food insecurity are needed for all immigrants, but potential options may differ by legal status and federal assistance program eligibility.

Unlike other groups, refugees are forcibly displaced from their country of origin.

Refugees undergo the resettlement process in their new countries in which they are granted protection and permanent residence by another host country. Despite diverse origins, refugees face common challenges when resettled in high-income countries. Resettled refugees have reported high rates of food insecurity ranging from 25% to 85%, with those originating from Sub-Saharan African nations reporting the highest rates.

Small-scale interventions have aimed to address various barriers to food and nutrition security among refugees, such as unfamiliarity with the food environment, limited access to culturally relevant foods, unhealthy dietary practices, transportation, language, and literacy issues.

Due to the heterogeneity of this population, nutrition professionals should use client-tailored approaches when working with them, such as adapting existing measurement tools and programs in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) for specific subgroups.

With the global population reaching 8 billion, large-scale population movement will likely be a consistent pattern for the foreseeable future.

Successful strategies to address food security among migrant, immigrant, and refugee populations are critical. Nutrition professionals working in food and nutrition security programs should tailor intervention, education, and support strategies to best address the context-specific needs of each group, with all strategies prioritizing nutritionally adequate diets focused on culturally relevant foods.