Food as Medicine: Making Hunger Treatable
When it comes to health, patients who make a visit to their doctor may find traditional pharmaceuticals are not the only prescription recommended by medical providers. Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) and Second Harvest Heartland are partnering to help treat patients who are struggling with one of the most basic but perhaps under-recognized needs.
“For some,” said Dr. Archelle Georgiou on a KSTP report, “Food may be the best prescription.”
Along with other inquiries about different aspects of their health, patients at HCMC are asked two questions to determine whether or not they are food secure. If the patient gives indication he or she is hungry, this triggers a “food prescription” and notifies Second Harvest Heartland.
Trained outreach specialists from Second Harvest Heartland can then contact the patient and assist in completing difficult assistance programs applications for which they may qualify.
“Food insecurity is not just a social condition,” KSTP reported. “It’s a health condition.”
KSTP also discussed the tendency for many to associate hunger needs with being underweight, but this is often a very poor indicator of food insecurity. “You can’t see hunger. In fact, food insecurity and obesity can go hand in hand, since hunger can lead to eating cheap, high-calorie, non-nutritious food,” Dr. Georgiou said. Asking direct questions during medical visits about availability of food in a household can make a significant difference in how we see hunger in our neighbors’ lives.
Dr. Jon Pryor, CEO of HCMC, understands the relationship between food and recovering from illnesses. “We realize that if we want to be effective in treating people’s diabetes, if we want to have good outcomes after surgery, they can’t be hungry or they won’t heal well.”
Seeing hunger as not only a symptom of social systems, but also as a treatable ailment in one’s health, can save lives and save dollars.
The cost of health care in Minnesota is more than $1.6 billion per year. As the report explains, chronic illnesses are much more difficult to treat, costing more over time, when patients are hungry.
Second Harvest Heartland hopes and anticipates treating food as medicine within the health care system will reach more of our hungry neighbors who need help the most.