A healthy diet not only means eating healthy foods and not overeating, it also means getting enough to eat.
Feeding America, an organization dedicated to alleviating hunger, found that 5 million older Americans lack the food to be healthy. As you might imagine, this can compound the healthcare challenges many of these individuals may be facing. An inadequate supply of healthy food can be especially problematic for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
Food security is a key social determinant of health – that is, environmental and social circumstances, as well as availability of resources, that have an impact on the health of an individual. That’s why, over the last several years, both anti-hunger advocates and a number of healthcare providers are exploring on-site food pantries at hospitals and clinics.
And many healthcare providers are being encouraged to ask patients about their food situation. A hospital in Philadelphia, for example, has a food pharmacy where patients get a “prescription” for certain foods that they can pick-up, while other hospitals across the nation are sending patients home with groceries after regularly scheduled visits.
The idea is to meet patients where they are to get them the food they need. Even hospitals and clinics who do not have on-site food pantries are increasingly focusing on this issue. Many have dedicated teams of social workers who can connect patients in need with local free food resources.
It may seem beyond the scope of a hospital’s responsibility, but making sure patients have enough good food is good medicine.