Access to good food is access to good health

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October 21, 2016 By: JT Pinther Category: SHH News

As Second Harvest Heartland reaches more and more neighbors through our agency relationships, we’re noticing something staggering:

Those who are hungry, disproportionately suffer more from health challenges.

 “Of the clients we already serve, 32 percent of households have a member with diabetes. Upwards of 45 percent of households have a member with high blood pressure.

By seeing hunger as both a symptom of social systems as well as a treatable ailment in one’s health, we can help improve lives. Taking preventable measures to keep our neighbors healthy through nutritious food allows them to thrive at work, in the classroom and in their communities.

Most importantly, treating food as medicine within the health care system will reach more of our hungry neighbors who would not otherwise get the help they need.

To get an expert’s perspective on Hunger and Health, we interviewed Dr. David Tilstra, President of CentraCare Clinic, one of our FOODRx program partners:


How does access to food affect public health?

The US has been aging, and more and more people are showing signs of chronic disease. When a significant number of people with chronic disease have poor access to food, this becomes a public health problem. More people won’t get back to normal health, leading to more time in the medical system and less time at work, with families and participating in their community.


In what ways does hunger affect an individual receiving medical care?

Even if someone is getting the medications that are intended to restore health, those medications assume that nutrition is adequate. Second, someone who is hungry is often choosing between food and medicine. Often that means they are choosing food that isn't nutritious but is “empty calories.”


What is the importance of food security for patients with long-term, chronic diseases?

For patients with chronic disease, food security means that they can focus their time and energy on getting healthy rather than trying to balance the need for food and medication.


Why did you become personally involved in this project? Why does it matter to you? 

I am interested in seeing that all of the people in our community are achieving the best health possible. That goes beyond providing great health care. It means when hunger is a barrier to achieving health, then as a health care organization, we should be focusing on what we can do to improve the access to food, and by extension, to normal health.


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