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Understanding Biopsychosocial Health Outcomes of Syndemic Water and Food Insecurity: Applications for Global Health

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  • 1 University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, North Carolina;
  • 2 Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona;
  • 3 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois;
  • 4 University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida;
  • 5 Aqueous Solutions, Moravian Falls, North Carolina

ABSTRACT

Household food and water insecurity often co-occur, and both can lead to malnutrition, psycho-emotional stress, and increased risk of infectious and chronic diseases. This can occur through multiple pathways including poor diet and inadequate sanitation. In this perspective, we discuss the potential advantages of a syndemic approach to understanding the consequences of food and water insecurity, that is, one that makes possible the assessment of their mutually enhancing effects on health. Syndemic theory considers the concerted, deleterious interaction of two or more diseases or other health conditions, such as psycho-emotional stress, that result from structural inequities. We therefore call for an approach that links localized morbidity of individual- or household-level experiences of concurrent food and water insecurity to larger structural and contextual forces/risk environments. Such an approach permits the investigation of food and water insecurity as suites of risk, such that certain disease outcomes serve as signals for interlinked stressors. For example, the use of a syndemic perspective could help explain the persistence of conditions like diarrhea or stunting after food or water interventions; that is, existing approaches may be too narrow in scope to protect individuals from multiple and overlapping environmental and biopsychosocial stressors.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Cassandra L. Workman, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Graham 443, Greensboro, NC 27403. E-mail: clworkma@uncg.edu

Authors’ addresses: Cassandra L. Workman, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC, E-mail: clworkma@uncg.edu. Alexandra Brewis and Amber Wutich, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, E-mails: alex.brewis@asu.edu and amber.wutich@asu.edu. Sera Young, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, E-mail: sera.young@northwestern.edu. Justin Stoler, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, E-mail: stoler@miami.edu. Joshua Kearns, Aqueous Solutions, Moravian Falls, NC, E-mail: josh@aqsolutions.org.

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