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By Karen Shirer, PhD

A recent study shows how food security matters for the well-being of military-connected youth and young adults (Burnette et al., 2023). Researchers surveyed 1,568 adolescents in 2009 and again in 2018. They tracked their health behaviors related to weight during their teen years.

Here are some key findings from the study:

  • Adolescence is a critical time when young people develop intuitive eating habits. Intuitive eating means eating when hungry and until full. Research shows that intuitive eating leads to better physical health and greater mental well-being (Van Dyke & Drinkwater, 2014). 
  • Food insecurity interrupts the development of intuitive eating habits during the teen years. Food insecurity means having less to eat than one thinks they should and not eating when hungry due to a lack of money to buy food.
  • Food insecurity leads to poorer nutrition. Young people eat fewer whole grains and vegetables and drink more high-sugar drinks.  They also skip meals, eat more at fast food restaurants, and binge eat or drink. 
  • Intuitive eating has become a privilege not everyone has. To develop intuitive eating, people need access to healthy food that they can afford. We need to address the social and racial barriers to food security.  

What Can We Do to Promote Food Security for Military-Connected Families and Youth?

Almost half (46%) of military-connected youth reported food insecurity during the last 30 days in 2022 (NMFA, 2022). Several factors of military life contribute to food insecurity. They include spouse unemployment, frequent moves, and enlisted service members’ pay grade and rank. The pandemic also led to less food security for more vulnerable populations, like families with children and youth. Here are some steps that we can take to promote food security (Schinkel et al., 2023):

  • Recognize the reluctance to seek help due to pride and feelings of shame for being food insecure. Look for ways to overcome this stigma. 
  • Create outreach and education programs to address gaps that inhibit food security for teens and young adults. One example is to offer nutrition programs that teach food skills to teens and emerging adults.
  • Coordinate these programs with other health services (e.g., screening and treatment for binge eating, substance abuse).
  • Simplify applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Partner with community-based organizations that already offer service.
  • Tailor outreach efforts to better reach teens and emerging adults. Serve teens and young adults where they tend to meet, like schools or colleges. Be sure information and services resonate with them. 

Learn More About Food Insecurity and Youth Well-Being

Plan to participate in these two OneOp opportunities:


Burnette, C., Hazzard, V., Larson, N., Hahn, S., Eisenberg, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2023). Is intuitive eating a privileged approach? Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between food insecurity and intuitive eating. Public Health Nutrition, 1-10. doi:10.1017/S1368980023000460 

OneOp. (2023). Military Families and Food Security: A Call to Action.

National Military Family Association (NMFA). (2022). 2022 Military Teen Food Insecurity. 

OneOp. (2023). Military Youth Well-Being. 

Schinkel, K. R., Budowle, R., Porter, C. M., Bai, B., Gifford, C., & Keith, J. F.  (2023). Service, Scholarship, and Sacrifice: A qualitative analysis of food security barriers and strategies among military-connected students. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 123 (3), 454 – 465. 

Van Dyke N, & Drinkwater EJ. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: a literature review. Public Health Nutrition, 17(8), 1757-66. doi 10.1017/S1368980013002139. 

Authors Biography

Karen ShirerKaren Shirer, previous Associate Dean of the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development. Karen is also the parent of two adult daughters, a grandmother, a spouse, and a cancer survivor.  



Photo source: Adobe Stock