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Links between hunger and health lead to recommendation that doctors screen patients for food insecurity

Published November 3, 2015
doctor taking notes


  • Almost 50 million people in the U.S. are food insecure.
  • Food insecurity is linked to negative health outcomes, including birth defects, anemia, aggression, anxiety, asthma, behavioral problems, depression, thoughts of suicide, and poor oral health.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an important health care intervention for low-income Americans.
  • Along with the usual questions doctors ask their patients, health care professionals should screen for food insecurity.

URBANA, Ill. – It may come as a surprise that, even after the Great Recession ended in 2009, almost 50 million people in the United States are food insecure– that is, they lack access to adequate food because of limited money or other resources. University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen and University of Kentucky’s James Ziliak examined recent research on food insecurity and its association with poor health and offer suggestions, including that doctors screen for hunger.

There’s a long list of negative health consequences that are linked to food insecurity, including a lower nutrient intake, which may appear to be an obvious outcome. But there are many other outcomes that aren’t predictable, such as some birth defects, anemia, aggression, anxiety, asthma, behavioral problems, depression, thoughts of suicide, and poor oral health.

Because of these strong associations between hunger and poor health, Gundersen and Ziliak recommend that health care professionals ask their patients some of the same questions used to determine whether someone is food insecure.

“Health care professionals should recognize the possibility that food insecurity may be one determinant, among others, of a patient’s health challenges,” Gundersen said. “Other nutrition-related health determinants, such as obesity, have received quite a bit of attention within the context of the doctor-patient relationship, but food insecurity has not received nearly as much attention.”

Because health care professionals already take comprehensive patient histories and have other opportunities during regular office visits to ask questions, inquiring about a patient’s confidence that they can afford to buy food for their family could be included.

“This would give health care professionals one more tool in their kit to use in identifying food-insecure patients and offering care options,” Gundersen said. “One option, not ordinarily considered in the context of an office visit, is to refer patients to food assistance programs such as SNAP to alleviate food insecurity and its associated poor health consequences.

“With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the concomitant expansion of Medicaid, millions of low-income people are being brought into the health care system,” Gundersen said, “putting doctors and nurses at the frontline of helping to identify people who are food insecure.”

The researchers are strong proponents of SNAP and suggest that new regulations that are being recommended for the program will make many people who currently benefit from SNAP ineligible.

“SNAP and other food assistance programs lead to reductions in food insecurity and also lead to reductions in health care costs and poverty,” Gundersen said. “This needs to be acknowledged whenever potentially damaging changes to SNAP are being proposed.”

“Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes” is published in Health Affairs. It is written by Craig Gundersen, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Department Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois and by James P. Ziliak, the Carol Martin Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics in the Department of Economics at the University of Kentucky. The research was partially funded by the Economic Research Service and the Food and Nutrition Service in the Department of Agriculture.


UIUC Students Participate in PAS Fall Conference

Published November 2, 2015

University of Illinois Agricultural Education students succeeded in several events at the Illinois Postsecondary Agriculture Students (PAS) Annual Fall Conference on October 23rd. Two students advanced to the National PAS Conference by winning their employment areas -- Clayton Carley, Crop Production; Willow Krumwiede, Agricultural Education; and Morgan Doggett, Interview Agribusiness Administration. Each student will participate in the national conference in March in Kansas City, Missouri. Additionally, the Horticulture Team comprised of Kayla Kauffman, Willow Krumwiede, and Morgan Doggett competed in the team event, Kaity Spangler competed in the Agribusiness Sales Interview, and Molly Novotney competed in the Agriculture Communication Interview. Each student placed in the top ten in their respective areas.

News Source:

Katie Burns, (217) 244-8086

Sideways price pattern to continue for corn

Published November 2, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The corn market was relatively uneventful during the first two months of the 2015-16 marketing year. There were no large supply surprises, and known consumption was somewhat lackluster. As a result, corn prices traded in a choppy but mostly sideways pattern, says a University of Illinois agricultural economist.

“Although market expectations about the magnitude of the U.S. average corn yield and size of the crop have varied over the past three months, USDA forecasts have been very stable,” said Darrel Good. “The USDA’s 2015 yield forecast has changed very little from the initial forecast of 168.8 bushels in August, dropping to 167.5 bushels in September, and rebounding to 168 bushels in October. The production forecast declined by only 131 million bushels, slightly less than 1 percent, from August to October. In addition, the USDA estimate of Sept. 1 stocks of old-crop corn came in almost exactly as forecast. New yield and production forecasts will be released on Nov. 10. Changes from the October forecasts are expected to be modest.”

According to Good, corn export inspections and export sales so far in the 2015-16 marketing year have been disappointing. For the year, the USDA projects that U.S. corn exports will reach 1.85 billion bushels, only slightly less than exports of 1.864 billion bushels last year. Cumulative export inspections during the first two months of the year were reported at only 206 million bushels, compared to 270 million bushels during the same period last year. Export commitments for the year (shipments plus outstanding sales) as of Oct. 22 were reported at 496 million bushels, compared to commitments of 738 million bushels on the same date last year. Commitments to Japan, typically the largest importer of U.S. corn, are down 42 percent, while commitments to Mexico, typically the second largest importer, are up 4 percent year over year.

“The seasonal pattern of exports and export sales differs from year to year, particularly sales to Japan, so early export performance is not always a good indicator of marketing-year exports,” Good said. “In addition, the official Census Bureau estimates of monthly exports (not yet available for September or October) often deviate from the export inspection estimates. Still, the slow start to the 2015-16 export program and prospects for ongoing competition from Brazilian exports due to large supplies and favorable exchange rates raise concerns that marketing-year exports will fall short of the current projection. Reports last week that some Brazilian corn was headed to the United States did not improve the U.S. export outlook.”

The USDA will release the estimate of the amount of corn used for ethanol production during September 2015 on Nov. 2. Weekly estimates of ethanol production from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicated that domestic ethanol production in September and the first three weeks of October exceeded that of a year ago by nearly 5 percent, suggesting corn consumption was also up about 5 percent, Good said.

“Ethanol production and corn consumption will continue to be supported by increasing domestic gasoline consumption and robust exports, but the large year-over-year increase in ethanol production experienced so far this year will not persist,” Good said. “Weekly ethanol production accelerated about this time last year. Production during the third week of October this year, for example, was about equal to that of a year ago.

“For the year, the USDA projects the amount of corn used for ethanol and co-product production at 5.25 billion bushels, about 1 percent more than consumed last year,” Good said. “Use may exceed that projection, but probably not by enough to alter the prospects for abundant year-ending corn stocks. The EPA’s final rule making for the Renewable Fuel Standards for 2014, 2015, and 2016, expected by the end of the month, will provide more insight on ethanol production prospects.”

The USDA projects feed and residual use of corn during the current marketing year at 5.275 billion bushels, only slightly less than used last year. Good said that the pace of consumption will not be known until the USDA releases the estimate of Dec. 1, 2015, corn stocks in the second week of January. In the meantime, prospects for feed consumption are derived primarily from changes in livestock and poultry inventories and production intentions.

“Current inventories provide a bit of a mixed picture,” Good said. “The milk cow inventory in September was about 1 percent larger than the inventory of a year ago, the number of cattle on feed on Oct. 1 was up 2 percent, and the Sept. 1 inventory of market hogs was up 4 percent. In contrast, the layer flock is recovering slowly from the effects of bird flu, and the September inventory was down 8 percent year over year. In addition, weekly broiler chick placements were less than those of a year ago in five of the seven weeks that ended Oct. 24. Although the Dec. 1 corn stocks estimate could provide a surprise because it will reflect ‘residual’ use of corn as well as feed use, current livestock numbers suggest that feed use should be near that of last year.”

According to Good, March 2016 corn futures have traded in a sideways pattern, with a range of about 95 cents over the past year, about 40 cents over the past four months, and about 15 cents over the past three weeks. “The current price is near the low end of that range,” he said. “A broad sideways price pattern is expected to continue through the winter months. A test of the high side of the price range will likely require a threat on the supply side, either in South America this year or the U.S. next year.”


2016 invasive pest awareness workshops will focus on early detection and response

Published October 27, 2015

URBANA, Ill.  – University of Illinois Extension has announced the dates for the 2016 Illinois First Detector Invasive Pest Workshops covering important landscape and nursery pests, diseases, and invasive plants. Workshops will be offered at eight locations in Illinois beginning in January 2016.

Early detection and response is key in managing invasive pests. The Illinois First Detector Workshops, now in their fourth year, are aimed at improving first detector training and invasive species awareness. The workshops will cover new topics on current and emerging invasive plants, pathogens, and insects, along with updates on previous workshop topics.

“We are looking forward to another year of First Detector Workshops and are excited about sharing these new topics with participants,” said Kelly Estes, state survey coordinator. “Each year the popularity of these trainings continues to grow, but more importantly, the enthusiasm of the participants grows each year. It’s wonderful to see so many people taking an active interest in learning more about invasive species and how plant pests can affect their communities.”

As in previous years, these in-depth training sessions will cover material that includes: identification/detection; cycle/biology; hosts; sampling; management; commonly confused lookalikes; and regulation.

Specific course topics will include:

  • Your role as a first detector
  • Illinois Exotic Weed Act
  • Jumping worms
  • Boxwood blight/Thousand Cankers Disease update
  • Insect forest invaders

Those attending will take part in hands-on activities, which will allow attendees to examine these pests and diseases in more detail.

The target audience includes certified arborists, tree care professionals, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, forestry and natural resource professionals, conservationists, and others with an interest in invasive species.

Continuing Education Units (CEUs) will be available for IAA Certified Arborists, Continuing Forestry Education Credits, Master Gardeners, and Master Naturalists.

Workshops will be held at the following locations:

  • Jan. 28 Waterloo 618-939-3434
  • Feb. 2 Joliet 815-727-9296
  • Feb. 3 Champaign 217-333-7672
  • Feb. 9 Effingham 217-247-7773
  • Feb. 17 Grayslake 847-223-9288
  • Feb. 18 Freeport 815-235-4125
  • Feb. 23 Quincy 217-322-3381
  • Feb. 24 Springfield 217-782-4617

Those interested in attending should contact the host locations above for registration. A $40 non-refundable registration fee covers instruction, on-site lunch, and training materials. Space is limited.

HungerU exhibit to visit U of I quad, raise awareness of food security issues

Published October 27, 2015
Hunger U graphic

URBANA, Ill. - The University of Illinois main quad will be a stop on a nationwide tour of Hunger U – a mobile exhibit to raise awareness of nutrition and food security issues. Hunger U will be stationed on the north end of the quad (south side of the Illini Union) on Wednesday, Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visitors can pedal tractors around the quad and participate in events to win prizes. The interactive games and displays provide information about the significance of modern agriculture and how it affects the world’s food crisis and the state of food security in over 100 countries.

Lulu Rodriguez, director of the Agricultural Communications Program under the joint auspices of the Colleges of ACES and Media, believes Hunger U’s visit will not only to spark conversations about how today’s farmers are helping feed a hungry world but will also educate about the critical role that modern agriculture plays every day in putting food on the table.

“Advocating for agriculture or ‘ag-vocating’ through awareness campaigns is just one example of how agricultural communications can be applied. Hunger U is a prime example of Ag Comm in action,” she says.

Agricultural communications is a specialization within the field of communications in which majors develop technical expertise and hone skills that enable them to communicate about increasingly complex issues related to food, agriculture, energy, the environment and natural resources and related policy.

“In Ag Comm courses at U of I, students explore some of the most controversial and newsworthy issues of our time—GMOs, water quality and access, climate change, antibiotic usage, food labeling, and more,” says agricultural communications instructor Leia Kedem. “Hunger U’s visit to campus will be a great opportunity for students and the general public to learn more about today’s critical food issues.”

For more information about Hunger U, including a complete list of sponsors, visit To learn more about the Agricultural Communications Program, visit

Putting Small Acres to Work 2015-2016 workshop series announced

Published October 26, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The University of Illinois Extension local foods and small farms team is sponsoring a series of workshops on a variety of topics to help people who have a few acres learn ways that they can put them to use. Dates and locations for the 2015-2016 workshop series, “Putting Small Acres to Work,” were recently announced.

The workshops will be offered between Dec. 5, 2015, and April 2, 2016, at four locations throughout Illinois. Topics and presenters will vary at each location. Topics at some locations may include: social media; small flock poultry; asparagus; pumpkins; brambles and chain saw safety; managing wildlife; how to grow a hobby into a farm business; hops; small orchards; organic/low-input vegetable gardening; sheep; ducks; and composting for livestock producers.

“Putting a few extra acres to work can bring in additional income, provide an opportunity to experiment with a new enterprise, or develop an interest or hobby for its educational or entertainment value,” said University of Illinois Extension local foods and small farms educator Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant.

“How to get started is the question,” she added.

Workshops will be held on the following dates:

  • Dec. 5, NIU Rockford Conference Center, Rockford
  • Dec. 5, 4-H Memorial Camp, Monticello
  • March 12, Greenville College, Greenville
  • April 2, Kankakee Community College, Kankakee

“You don't have to own hundreds of acres to create a profitable business,” Cavanaugh-Grant said. “We developed these workshops to help people realize the possibilities that a few acres can provide.”

Visit the workshop website,, for more information on speakers and topics and to register. For more information about the series, contact Cavanaugh-Grant at 217-782-4617 or

Beef: High prices cure high prices

Published October 26, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The adage that the cure for high prices is high prices is evident this year in beef markets. Finished cattle prices reached record highs near $170 in late 2014 and early spring 2015. Prices then fell below $120 by October. According to a Purdue University Extension economist, prices that have fallen $50 per hundredweight may be the greatest decline ever.

“Interestingly, the decline in beef prices was preceded by a similar decline in live hog prices from mid-2014 into early 2015,” said Chris Hurt. “It’s likely that the escalated 2015 egg prices due to avian influenza may also face a similar descent at some point.

“When analysts look back on these boom/bust price patterns, the supply and demand data never seem to fully justify how high prices go in a period of shortage, nor how quickly they fall afterward,” Hurt said. “The tendency for prices to overshoot on the upside and then to undershoot on the downside is often repeated. The excesses on the upside may be related to the human emotion that is inherent in agricultural markets when there is uncertainty with regard to food shortages. Regardless, cattle markets seemingly overshot to the upside, then undershot to the downside, and are now seeking to better evaluate equilibrium.”

Hurt said that some of the roller-coaster price action in the cattle markets can be explained by basic supply and demand relationships.This has been illuminated in 2015 by higher cattle weights, by sharp increases in beef imports and declining beef exports, and by consumption shifts due to high retail beef prices.

“Everyone knew that cattle numbers would be small this year, and processing numbers have been down 6 percent,” Hurt said. “But high prices have provided incentives to get additional beef supplies to consumers. The first is by higher weights. Record-high finished cattle prices in combination with limited feeder cattle and abundant feedlot capacity provided strong incentives for feedlot managers to finish the animals that were available to much higher weights. Current weekly slaughter weights are approaching 1,400 pounds per head. For the year, weights are up an average of 2.5 percent. So 6 percent lower numbers are partially offset by higher weights such that domestic production so far this year is only down 3.5 percent.”

According to Hurt, record-high U.S. cattle and beef prices, along with a strong U.S. dollar, have also stimulated major shifts in trade patterns that have also increased the domestic availability of beef.

“High prices have attracted considerably more imports of beef,” Hurt said. “Trade data through August show that beef imports have increased 32 percent over the same period in the previous year. The three countries with the largest added sales to the U.S. are Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico. Brazilian beef exports to the U.S. are the fourth largest increase where the U.S. dollar has appreciated about 40 percent over the past year.”

Hurt added that high U.S. prices and a strong dollar have damaged U.S. beef export volumes as well. Through August, beef exports were down 12 percent, led by reductions of 31 percent to China, 23 percent to Mexico, and 12 percent to U.S.’s biggest customer Japan.

“The surprising bottom line is that U.S. consumers have had more beef available so far this year, not less,” Hurt said.

Hurt reviewed the numbers above: animal numbers for processing have been down 6 percent, but weights have been up 2.5 percent and net trade impacts (more imports and less exports) have contributed an additional 4.5 percent to supplies. Consequently, the 6 percent lower animal numbers have been more than offset by 7 percent more supply from weights and net trade impacts. That makes available supplies up 1 percent so far, Hurt said.

“Retail beef prices have probably also contributed to the record drop in finished cattle prices this year,” Hurt said. “Retail beef prices rose to a high of $6.42 per pound in May (USDA). These record-high prices sent signals to consumers to consider looking for beef substitutes, and they found them in growing pork supplies at declining prices and abundant chicken at prices similar to those in the previous year. Again, given time, high prices provide a cure for high prices for demand as well as for supply.”

After cattle prices have seemingly overshot and undershot, the market is now attempting to find the “correct” equilibrium price, Hurt explained. “Of course that ‘correct’ price is never known and one of the primary functions of markets is to discover that price.”

Finished cattle prices bottomed in the first half of October somewhat under $120 and recovered to the high $120s last week. “Using current futures prices as a forecast suggests that a strong recovery will occur into the end of 2015 into the low $140s,” Hurt said. “Then prices would be expected to reach their 2016 highs in late winter or very early spring in the mid to higher $140s. Seasonal weakness would drop prices back to the mid to higher $130s by the end of summer.”

Hurt said that most likely the highest cattle prices on this cycle are behind us. Finished cattle averaged near $155 in 2014. They are expected to be near $150 for 2015 and then moderate even more into the high $130s or low $140s for 2016.

“Meanwhile high prices are continuing to do their job of stimulating expansion of the cow herd, with female slaughter (heifers and cows) so far this year down 10 percent,” Hurt said. “Indeed, given enough time, high prices will solve the dilemma of high prices.”