A number of studies have found strong correlations between food insecurity and increased health risks. Hunger, health, and socioeconomic condition are linked in a mutually-reinforcing feedback loop.
This relationship suggests the need for comprehensive, cooperative health and hunger interventions. Anti-hunger programs and health service providers can enhance client/patient well-being by adopting a “food as medicine” mentality.
Manifestations of “Food as Medicine” efforts can be as simple as referring food-insecure patients to food pantries. Or they can be as vertically integrated as a health clinic with its own in-house food pharmacy, demonstration kitchens, benefits application assistants, and caseworkers.
While “food as medicine” is still a nascent philosophy in the healthcare and emergency food provider industries, monitoring-and-evaluation data from avant garde programs suggests that they save both money and lives.
Food insecurity, socioeconomic condition, and health form a feedback loop. Having a low income level can lead to not being able to afford enough food. Food insecurity then leads to coping mechanisms, such as bingeing, fasting, eating a low-cost, high calorie diet, and stressing about where to obtain affordable foods.
Poor eating habits lead to poor health, which increases healthcare expenditures and negatively impacts employment. Increased healthcare costs and reduced household income exacerbate food insecurity.
For these reasons, in the health policy field, poverty and food insecurity are often considered social determinants of health.
In Part Two of our “Food as Medicine” series, we examine data connecting hunger and health, both in Chicago and across the country.
Check out Part Two here.
By Ryan Maia, AmeriCorps VISTA, NFPN
Last Updated 9/23/2019