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Food insecurity is ‘a public health threat,’ American College of Physicians says

An estimated 1 in 10 Americans struggle with food insecurity, the organization notes.
Fresh for You market
Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis expanded its Fresh for You market last year as part of its efforts to fight food insecurity. / Photo courtesy of Eskenazi Health

More must be done to address food insecurity across the country and the negative impacts it can have, according to a new position paper from the American College of Physicians (ACP) recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Food and nutrition insecurity poses a public health threat to the well-being of the nation,” the paper says, noting that food insecurity is correlated with a higher risk of health conditions including anemia, asthma, birth defects and cognitive delays.

Lower nutrient intake in adults struggling with food insecurity can also contribute to poor mental health as well as the development of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, per the ACP.

“In the United States it’s estimated that about 10 percent of the population experiences food insecurity,” ACP President Ryan Mire said in a press release. “That means that 10 percent of Americans have inadequate quality, variety, and quantity of the food available [to] them. Persistent food insecurity and hunger can negatively impact employment, income, and medical expenditures.

As the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the issue of food insecurity, many dining teams have been hard at work combatting the problem.

Healthcare facilities have been screening patients for food insecurity and opening onsite groceries and food pantries to boost healthy food access. Virtua Health in Voorhees, N.J., took this one step further, working with Morrison Healthcare to transform a bus into a mobile grocery store that visits food deserts in the local area.

College campuses have also made strides to ensure that students who are struggling can easily find nutritious food. Research published earlier this month indicates that use of campus food pantries increases students’ perceived physical and mental health, as well as improves their sleep quality.

Alongside other remedies, the ACP suggests that lawmakers address food insecurity through improving federal SNAP benefits and allocating funding toward programs that promote healthy diets and nutrition access, and that medical professionals seek to “better understand and mitigate” food insecurity among their patients.

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