A third of private sector service workers had severe food insecurity


In the PAMEL study conducted by the Universities of Helsinki and Tampere, a third of the participating 6435 Private Sector Service Trade Union (Service Union United, PAM) members had experienced severe food insecurity in the last month in 2019. Severe food insecurity means the respondent had to skip meals, had gone to sleep hungry or had gone a whole day without eating due to financial reasons.

The risk of food insecurity was markedly increased for those who reported great difficulties in covering household expenses with their income and younger age groups. Not being married, low education, working in the hospitality industry, being male and living in rented housing also increased the probability of severe food insecurity.

Food insecurity was noticeably more prevalent among private sector service workers compared to the population-representative studies. However, there is a lack of studies on food insecurity in Finland. In previous studies, food insecurity has been associated with higher mortality and multiple diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and mental health problems.

“These results are worrying considering the impact food insecurity has on an individual’s wellbeing and quality of life as well as on a societal level in health care costs” says nutrition researcher Hanna Walsh from the University of Helsinki.

The PAMEL study results were in line with previous studies where food security is seen as a consequence of multiple economic issues such as lower household income, lack of assets and savings, and income instability. The majority of PAM members who participated in the study were employed. The service sector is characterised by low salaries, part-time and temporary work contracts as well as physically tasking shift work. The study’s result shows that the employed can also be severely food insecure and highlights the need for employment contracts, salaries and social benefits that enable basic security. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the significance of private sector workers in the functioning of society.

Finland has also signed the UN covenant on the Right to Food, which guarantees everyone should have the right to a minimum wage and social security that is sufficient to meet the cost of nutritious food and other basic needs. To know whether these rights are realised food insecurity levels need to be monitored in the population.

“It is necessary for the welfare state to take care of the coping of low-wage workers in the work force. Social sustainability means that healthy and ecologically sustainable diets are affordable and accessible to all” states the principal researcher Maijaliisa Erkkola, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Helsinki.


The results were published in the Public Health Nutrition journal: Hanna Walsh, Jaakko Nevalainen, Tiina Saari, Liisa Uusitalo, Turkka Näppilä, Ossi Rahkonen, Maijaliisa Erkkola. Food insecurity among Finnish private service sector workers: validity, prevalence, and determinants. Public Health Nutrition. https://www.doi.org/10.1017/S1368980022000209 [not the final version].

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