NACHC Initiative Focuses on Health Center Programs that Fight Food Insecurity

Amy Simmons Farber 301/347-0400 202 309 0338 (mobile)

Photo Courtesy: Petaluma Health Center

The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) has launched an initiative to highlight Community Health Centers focused on fighting food insecurity in their local communities. Over 14 percent of people in the United States (48 million) face food insecurity, or a lack of access to sufficient quantities of nutritious and affordable food. The highest percentage is in households with children. Food insecurity happens when families have limited household budgets to purchase healthy foods or do not qualify for programs that offer nutritional assistance.

The consequences of food insecurity carry far-reaching health problems, especially among children who can suffer cognitive impairments from malnutrition. Lack of access to healthy foods, such as fresh vegetables, is associated with hunger, anemia, and low school attendance. More serious chronic health problems associated with food insecurity include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and pediatric developmental delays. The Community Health Centers as Food Oasis Partners project, funded by the Medtronic Foundation, lays the groundwork toward developing a knowledge base of best practices in fighting food insecurity in underserved communities. “It is important that we focus on community well-being by addressing the social determinants of health through food insecurity and its effects on the health of underserved communities,” said Jacob A. Gayle, Ph.D., President, Medtronic Foundation.

Health center efforts to improve food security go beyond traditional health education. They have included community gardens, farmers’ markets, food prescriptions, food pantries, patient vouchers and meal programs. Some health centers have even identified food insecurity as a major issue in their community and actively integrate their food security efforts into their comprehensive primary care services. However, a systematic approach to incorporating food security and nutrition as part of health care delivery has not been implemented across the health center network. Specific examples are needed to document how these programs work and what strategies have been successful.

The Community Health Centers as Food Oasis Partners project documented examples now available in a video, podcasts and a publication to highlight health center efforts.  Health centers profiled in this effort have a range of characteristics, including region of the country, urban/rural setting, and populations served. They also reflect different types of food program interventions and partnerships.  You can learn more about the Community Health Centers as Food Oasis Partners Project by visiting this link.

“Focusing on food insecurity and the factors that may cause illness, or the social determinants of health, has always been the mission of Community Health Centers since their inception some 50 years ago,” said Malvise A. Scott, Senior Vice President for Partnership and Resource Development at NACHC. “In the early days of the Community Health Center Movement Dr. Jack Geiger wrote grocery prescriptions for malnourished patients. And today that tradition continues with health centers reaching beyond the exam room to target many of the root causes of chronic disease, not the least of which is poor nutrition.”

Related links: Public News Service: As Congress Ponders Reform, Health Centers Address Root Causes of Illness