Hunger, Health and Innovative Strategies

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May 19, 2015 By: Marie Pauley Category: SHH News Tags: fresh food, Share Fresh, healthy food, fresh produce, client story, annual report, Retail Food Rescue

“It’s a cycle.”

That’s the way Kevin, a Minneapolis food shelf client, describes how being food insecure impacts his health.

Kevin and his wife both work full time, but suffer from health conditions that require significant out-of-pocket expenses related to medical care. To help cover costs, Kevin and his wife rely on a food shelf to access healthy food they otherwise could not afford, that is critical to their health.

“If we’re eating processed foods high in sugars and starches because it’s what we can afford, we don’t feel so great—it affects our health and causes us to spend more money on medical expenses. It’s a cycle,” said Kevin.

Kevin and his wife are not the only individuals caught in this cycle. We hear about it every day.

Why Food Access and Nutrition Matter

Research has found that proper nutrition and access to food play an important role in prevention, treatment and recovery for many health conditions, which can be challenging for high-need patients. A 2010 study by the Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota, reported that the effects of hunger annually cost the Minnesota economy at least $1.6 billion in preventable health and education costs.

In spite of the connection between food access, nutrition and health, the health care system and hunger relief systems have historically functioned largely apart from each other. Non-profits in hunger relief do not reach nearly all people who need food, and health care providers serve many food insecure patients who could be connected to food support, which could play an important role in their health outcomes.

The Opportunity: Better Health, Less Hunger

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has analyzed the potential for greater integration between health care and hunger relief and indicates that if the medical and hunger relief sectors partner to increase access to healthy foods, food insecurity could be significantly reduced.

Second Harvest Heartland invested in innovative work to highlight the connection between hunger and health and distributed more fresh food to support people like Kevin.

Some of these projects and pilots include:
  • Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) helps connect families with food resources through their new electronic referral system and their onsite Food Shelf.
  • Hunger and Health Forum—showcasing research conducted by BCG—was a gathering of top Minnesota health care providers, insurers and community and government partners, who came together to explore new ways to link food insecurity interventions with health care initiatives, to provide better patient outcomes.

In further efforts to support health, the food we’ve distributed in the past year has never been more wholesome. Some of the work that has allowed us to provide access to more fresh, healthy food our clients need are:

  • Retail Food Rescue program distributed 32 million pounds of food, nearly half was produce.

  • In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature passed the "Farm to Foodshelf" bill, funded by the State of Minnesota, to help the state’s agricultural producers and processors offset a portion of their costs to harvest and package for transfer donated produce that would otherwise go unharvested or be discarded. Growers donate this produce to help food shelves and other meal programs in the state provide more fresh food to clients. The program is administered through Second Harvest Heartland and the other Feeding America food banks serving Minnesota.

  • Rolling out Harvest to End Hunger MN, a statewide effort to engage farmers in hunger relief.

Want to get involved? Visit to help get more fresh food to our neighbors in need.


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