New policy paper calls for all stakeholders, including policymakers and medical professionals, to be actively engaged in addressing food insecurity
July 8, 2022 (ACP) — Food insecurity is a growing threat to public health in the United States, and a new American College of Physicians policy paper calls on the federal government to address the issue.
In the United States, about 10% of the population experiences food insecurity, and preliminary data suggest that the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and current inflation rates are likely to exacerbate these numbers. In addition, wide disparities in food insecurity rates exist along racial and ethnic lines.
“Food insecurity is associated with various health issues in certain populations, including higher rates of diabetes and chronic disease, poorer mental health and other issues,” explained Josh Serchen, ACP associate for health policy.
It can become a vicious cycle. “Food expenses compete with other life expenses, resulting in patients having to choose between feeding themselves or foregoing their next prescription or medical appointment,” he said, adding that food insecurity can also impede a person's ability to work or succeed in school.
“This unacceptable situation underlies ACP's belief that now is the time for bold government action to significantly improve food security for all people in the United States,” Serchen said.
In the new position paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on June 27, titled “Strengthening Food and Nutrition Security to Promote U.S. Public Health: A Position Paper from the American College of Physicians,” ACP calls for more funding for programs that aim to reduce food and nutrition insecurity. Specifically, policymakers should improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to better serve the needs and health of food-insecure individuals and households.
“Government nutrition assistance programs must be straightforward to enroll in and adequately funded,” Serchen explained, noting that these programs must also provide benefits that “realistically reflect food prices and other competing life expenses.” The benefits must also be sufficient to purchase nutritious food.
More research is also needed to get a better handle on the prevalence, severity and cost of food and nutrition insecurity and its impact on health and health care.
The medical community also has a role to play in addressing food insecurity, and this includes screening patients for food insecurity, Serchen noted. To do this and do it well, additional support is needed from lawmakers and payers to provide the resources that practices need to take on these efforts. Governments and payers must adequately reimburse practices and create new reimbursement codes to ensure they are equipped with the financial, staff and technical resources necessary to undertake food insecurity screening and referral efforts, the policy paper states.
ACP also calls for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to develop, test and support innovative models and waivers that incorporate benefits and activities that address food insecurity, and food and nutrition insecurity curricula should be incorporated into medical education.
“Physicians should also educate themselves on the signs and health impacts of food insecurity, as well as make themselves aware of government programs and community resources that food-insecure patients can be connected to,” Serchen explained.
It is important that access to these programs is expanded and maintained, not restricted. To make this happen, “community organizations must be supported to fill the gap and connect individuals to resources,” he said.
The bottom line, according to Serchen: “Addressing food insecurity will require all stakeholders — medical professionals, policymakers, payers and community leaders — to be actively engaged.”
The policy paper, “Strengthening Food and Nutrition Security to Promote U.S. Public Health: A Position Paper from the American College of Physicians,” is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.
You can find our video related to ‘Food Insecurity’ here.
Back to the July 8, 2022 issue of ACP Advocate