Food insecurity is becoming a national health problem that doctors can help

The ACP makes six recommendations, including medical examinations that enhance the benefits of SNAP food.

Chronic starvation and its consequences have become a national health problem that doctors and lawmakers need to address, according to the American College of Physicians (ACP).

The organization has published a new position paper outlining six recommendations for tackling food insecurity, which in turn leads to dietary insecurity, which in turn affects diet-related conditions such as diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease, certain cancers and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. .

In medicine, there is a growing understanding that social drivers of health affect patients’ health. This includes food insecurity, which is estimated to affect about 13.8 million households with 38.3 million people in the United States in 2019 and 2020.

“Food insecurity is a social factor that has direct and indirect effects on a person’s physical, cognitive and mental health,” the document said. “Despite its known health effects, little sustainable progress has been made in reducing the incidence of food insecurity and improving affordable food choices in the United States. Although there is a network of different federal, state and community programs – both public and private – to provide food insecurity, food insecurity persists as a result of inadequate levels of support, barriers to accessing programs and strict requirements that make many people who are unsure about food unacceptable. ”

“Strengthening Food and Nutrition Security to Promote Public Health in the United States: A Position Paper from the American College of Physicians,” was published June 28 in the Annals of Internal Medicine of the ACP.

For doctors

Among the recommendations, the ACP believes that doctors and other medical staff should be better at understanding and mitigating food insecurity for their patients.

“Patient studies have found that many of them benefit from screening for food insecurity during primary care visits and believe that it contributes to improved care and a sense of better understanding,” the document said. ACP credits two-question screening methods used by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Across the country, 30% of medical practices and 40% of hospitals are currently checking for food insecurity. Time constraints with patients mean that doctors need to focus on interventions that have been shown to improve health, according to the ACP, and doctors who fight hunger need help.

“Given the many competitive requirements they face during a brief office visit, it is important that doctors are supported by payers, institutions, governments and their communities,” the ACP document said. This includes adequate reimbursement of practice costs and new reimbursement codes for screening and referral efforts.

Among its policy recommendations, the ACP called for higher-quality research on the effectiveness of screening, education and treatment, along with further research to inform policymakers about the human costs of food and food insecurity.

Non-clinical approaches

Physicians noted by ACP may consider non-clinical approaches, such as:

  • Serves as a place for food distribution
  • Partnership with local food retailers, organizations and schools
  • Investing in community resources and organizations
  • Participation in advocacy to inform the public debate on food insecurity

Other recommendations

In the United States, federal, state, and local governments provide the “vast majority of food aid,” so the nation needs a “health in all policies” approach to public policy, according to ACP. Some of the other four other policy recommendations explicitly address government policies and programs:

  • The ACP reaffirms the need for all people to have adequate access to healthy food, and tackling food insecurity and nutrition must become a policy and funding priority.
  • Congress and other politicians must fund and support efforts to reduce food and food insecurity, and must protect nutrition support programs from “budget failures” and transformations into grant-blocking programs.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a $ 80 billion program that serves approximately 41.9 million people. It needs to be improved as the levels of benefits increase.

In recent years, the average monthly SNAP allowance has been $ 240 per household or $ 121 per person – or $ 1.40 per person per meal, which was not enough to cover the actual cost of low-income food in 99% of the counties in the mainland of the United States.

The SNAP benefit has been recalculated for 2022, but most households will see only a modest increase as public health emergency benefits will expire. Politicians need to set compensation levels high enough to lift people out of food insecurity, ACP said.

  • Federal Medicare & Medicaid Service Centers must develop, test, and support innovative models and waivers for benefits and activities aimed at social drivers of health, including food insecurity.
  • For the nation, linking the hungry to food that is lost in a year – valued at $ 408 billion – can bridge the gap in a sustainable way.

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