Biweekly Briefing Articles

Hospitals’ Role in Addressing Food Insecurity

September is Hunger Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raise awareness — not just locally, but across the U.S. — of individuals and families who face food insecurity, and the impact hunger has on overall health and well-being.

According to March 2021 data from the San Diego Hunger Coalition, approximately one in three San Diegans experience nutrition insecurity or are unable to provide three, nutritious meals per day for themselves and/or their families. This is up from an estimated one in four San Diegans in 2019, which was the lowest rate since the Great Recession and a 10-year low for the county. In Imperial County, which has the highest rate of childhood hunger in California — 40% of children don’t get enough to eat — almost one in five residents experience food insecurity, according to the Imperial Valley Wellness Foundation.

Increases in CalFresh benefits and unemployment last year kept food insecurity from growing exponentially due to the pandemic and the economic shutdown, but the challenge persists for millions of people and could grow as some of the temporary benefits associated with the pandemic expire.

It is clear that the key to a patient’s overall health is not just limited to their medical care, but also social and economic factors. Food insecurity is linked to a wide range of negative health outcomes, including poor mental health, diabetes, hypertension, pediatric asthma, and oral health problems in adults. Food insecure children are more likely to have poor academic outcomes, while seniors are more likely to have difficulty managing their health and medications. Our hospitals understand the linkages between food insecurity and health. Even as your hospitals were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, they helped more than 1,200 patients apply for CalFresh benefits between July 2020 and May 2021.

Food is medicine, and there are growing opportunities for hospitals to connect patients with resources. We want to highlight a great example for anyone undergoing cancer treatment. Feeding San Diego, the San Diego Padres, and Curebound are hosting free, large-scale, drive-through food distributions in various regions across San Diego County. Every registered attendee will receive approximately 50 pounds worth of dry goods, fresh produce, and a frozen meat protein. Patients can register online.
Additional food assistance resources in San Diego County are available via the San Diego Hunger Coalition website.

By connecting San Diegans to hunger relief resources and working with patients to overcome the stigmas attached with hunger, your hospitals are fostering an environment that embraces not just the health needs of a community, but also its socio-economic needs.