Giving drugs without food is like washing your hands and drying them in the dirt.” Haitian Proverb
I studied health services administration in my undergraduate degree and will be pursuing a graduate degree in public health starting this fall, meaning that it’s safe to say, I’m very concerned with the health of our nation. And currently if you don’t know, health care reform (the Affordable Care Act) is being reviewed by the Supreme Court and could be in-part or completely thrown out. This in conjunction with my position at the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, has caused me the past few days to do some serious thinking about the connection between access to food and health. If the ACA is indeed thrown out, that continues to leave many without health insurance, continuing the stress on the state budgets through Medicare and Medicaid, along with financial stress on uninsured or underinsured families with medical costs. With the stress on state budgets, cuts to social programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) could further negatively impact the health of our communities, states, and nation, even without the ACA being thrown out.
The impact of policy decisions on our communities is incredibly great. With more than 1 in 3 children statewide living below 185% of poverty (according to 2006-2010 American Community Survey data), many Ohio families depend on SNAP, foodbanks, pantries, and soup kitchens, free and reduced school lunch programs, and Summer Food Service Programs in their area when school is out.
Thankfully many communities have resources address this issue in part, but more needs to be done to directly link our health and our social determinants of health (such as physical environment, social environment, social-economic standing, etc.), and thus is directly related to the food we are supplied and eat, the conditions we live in, and the attitudes that our communities share about personal health and wellness.
I read an interesting article this week by Rebecca Onie, Paul Farmer, and Heidi Behforouz, titled Realigning Health with Care in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (great read, I highly recommend). In this article, the authors speak to a realignment of health care through expanding the scope of health, the delivery environment and, the workforce providing it, shortened to product, place and provider. For example, the article mentions a 2007 study by Johns Hopkins Medical Center in which, “98% of pediatric residents said that referring well-child patients for help with basic needs could improve the children’s health.” But only 11% of those residents routinely inquired into their patients food security. Children lacking proper nutrition cannot properly develop and often food insecurity for children can result in higher rates of depression, anxiety, behavior problems, diabetes, and can have an increased likelihood of repeating a grade or lower math scores. And so if we were to expand the scope of health to include basic necessities, expand where the public can access the resources, and expand who can provide the resources we could realign our health care system in a more effective and efficient way.
I wanted to share this to emphasize the importance of programs such as the Summer Food Service Program and the Governor’s Summer Backpack Program. I happen to be evaluating the VISTA Summer Associates volunteering with Summer Food Service Programs across the state, and having this frame of mind has caused me to see the value of their work already! I can also see the great impact and value that the Ohio Associate of Second Harvest Foodbanks has in all areas of fighting poverty: advocacy work, the Ohio Benefit Bank, their National Service Programs, the Agricultural Clearance Program and more!
I have hopes that in the future we will address social determinants of health more effectively and efficiently, and in my humble opinion, throwing out provisions of the ACA (Yes, including individual mandate) would be a step backward. But no matter the decision, I know that communities at least have the support and assistance from organizations such as the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.
Until next time,
The views and comments on this post are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of or shared with OASHF