Humana, Feeding America help doctors address food insecurity

Food insecurity – a situation in which households lack access to enough nutritious food for a healthy, active life – has a significant impact on the health of many Americans.Across the nation, one in eight households (12.3 percent) is food insecure.

As part of its Bold Goal population health strategy, Humana is focused on addressing social determinants of health such as food insecurity and loneliness/social isolation. That’s why they partnered with Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger-relief charity in the United States, to develop a toolkit to help health care professionals diagnose and address food insecurity in their patients.

“Our research shows that food insecurity is strongly tied to poor health outcomes, so it is vital that physician practices begin to address food insecurity in their patient populations in order to help patients best manage their health,” said Kim Prendergast, RD, MPP, Feeding America. “This toolkit provides important information about food insecurity and contains a road map for how clinicians can implement screening and referral practices into their own workflow. By working with community partners that are willing to assist patients toward better health, health care providers are better able to care for patients each time they come in for a visit.”

The toolkit is designed to:

  • Define food insecurity and its impact on health
  • Provide information on how to screen for food insecurity and have the associated dialogue with patients
  • Provide information on programs available to patients
  • Explain how to work with the local food bank and other community organizations, and how to provide a referral to patients
  • Show how to measure the success of food insecurity interventions

The combination of an unhealthy diet and food insecurity can lead to impaired growth in children, more chronic diseases for adults, higher healthcare costs and missed work days, leading to lower incomes. The toolkit notes that food insecurity is linked specifically to these health problems in adults:

  • Higher levels of chronic disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease (CHD), hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • Medication non-adherence
  • Poor diabetes self-management
  • Higher probability of mental health issues, such as depression
  • Higher rates of iron-deficient anemia• More hospitalizations and longer in-patient stays

As the trusted source of referrals to support good health, physicians and clinicians can help alleviate food insecurity and ensure holistic care.

With simple, validated screening questions, physicians and clinicians can add food insecurity to the clinical dialogue and refer those who need help to community resources. Known collectively as the Hunger Vital Sign™, these two questions enable clinicians to quickly assess the food needs of a patient and their household:

  • “Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” Was that often true, sometimes true, or never true for you/your household?
  •  “Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you/your household?

A response of “sometimes true” or “often true” to either or both questions should trigger a referral for food security support.

In addition, health professionals can use the responses to identify and address clinical problems rooted in food insecurity, such as spikes in blood sugar and blood pressure, depression and poor medication adherence.

For more information on Humana’s Bold Goal, click here.

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