Bread for the World released their 2016 Hunger Report today, “The Nourishing Effect: Ending Hunger, Improving Health, and Reducing Inequality.” I served as a reviewer of the report, along with other food, hunger and nutrition experts. The report underscores what many of us already know – that hunger and food insecurity is an enormous problem in today’s society, costing the U.S. $160 billion in increased health expenditures last year alone.
But the key insights and recommendations coming out of the report help piece together a complex system of stakeholders, institutions and organizations key to helping prevent hunger and food insecurity. Top of the list is the connection between hunger and health care, that we can no longer think of the health care sector as separate from the nutrition issues that plague us today.
Here are a few of the key messages from the report:
Nutritious food is essential to healthy growth and development and can prevent the need for costly medical care.
The U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other high-income country but compares poorly with these others on key population health indicators such as life expectancy and child survival.
Socioeconomic inequalities drive population-wide health disparities.
Even as hunger rates decline in every region of the developing world, wide-scale malnutrition from vitamin and mineral deficiencies continues to impose a devastating cost on individuals. In addition, rising levels of obesity and related chronic diseases are imposing a huge burden on weak health systems in developing countries.
And just as important are the related recommendations, particularly those focused on the health care sector. Here they are:
Use the Hunger VitalSign, a two-item food insecurity tool, and include in patients’ electronic medical records.
Promote federal nutrition programs and community-based food assistance whenever food insecurity is a risk factor in patient outcomes.
Expand medically tailored meal programs for homebound patients with chronic conditions and at risk of food insecurity or malnutrition.
Build the evidence base for nutrition services such as fruit and vegetable prescriptions and medically tailored meals.
Build and sustain partnerships with local anti-hunger organizations and others to more systemically and completely understand the address the social determinants of health.
Advocate for ending hunger and poverty as a cost-effective measure to improve population health and reduce the costs of treating chronic diseases.
Today’s report launch event at the National Press Club features two panels that have expanded on the recommendations and findings above. They range from USDA’s Kevin Concannon to Dr. Sarah Schwarzenberg, the lead author of AAP’s new policy statement on food insecurity. There was lots of talk about food access, nutrition education and bridging the health care-nutrition divide. Kevin even added a plug to support the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, that they are based on the best available science and must continue to be valued and used. There was no shortage of interested journalists and attendees, many of whom focused on how to “use” ACA and other federal regulations to improve health outcomes.
Second panel to commence shortly!