Daphne Hernandez studies how life-changes impact our ability to access nutritious food choices.
"One of the things I want to make people aware of is the food-insecurity problem we have in this country, specifically in Houston," said Hernandez. "Thirty-five percent of children in Houston are food insecure, and that's much higher than the national average of 22 percent."
Hernandez, now a researcher with the Department of Health and Human Performance, examines how food insecurity impacts the cognitive development of children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Core Food Security Module, "food insecurity" reflects rationing, portion control and inability to offer families balanced meals. All of these elements of "food insecurity" stem from financial constraints that often prevent families from buying enough food for their households.
"A number of these children who live in food-insecure households are at risk for attention difficulties, behavior problems and stomach aches," she said. "Additionally, their health status is lower compared with other children who are food secure."
Many of her studies are funded by the USDA. She says an emerging area of research focuses on the relationship between food insecurity and obesity.
"Trying to understand how it can be that a child who lives in a food-insecure household may also be overweight is hard to conceptualize and hard to figure out why," she said.
She is working with fellow researchers at the UH Texas Obesity Research Center.
"This is an area that is emerging. We're at the cusp of trying to figure this out."
Daphne Hernandez is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.