In the face of economic challenges, many Americans struggle to afford enough food for themselves and their families. Such times of hardship can actually help feed the obesity epidemic, because the low cost of unhealthy food, coupled with a lack of access to affordable, healthy food, means that the food that does reach the table is often high in calories but low in nutritional quality.
Healthy Eating in Hard Times (HEHT) is a part of Kaiser Permanente’s response to the high levels of food insecurity in our communities, and how we will help communities stay healthy through any economic downturn. HEHT seeks to ensure that food insecure families have access to healthy food (not just calories) when they need it the most.
HEHT efforts include:
- Improving nutritional quality of food at food banks and food pantries: Neighborhood food banks and pantries are an important way that many low-income families can get access to the food they need. So it’s critical that such programs provide access to more nutritious meals. Kaiser Permanente provides grants to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens to improve the nutritional quality of the food they distribute to clients.
- Improving access to government food programs: Government food programs, such as food stamps and school nutrition programs, are another important resource for underserved families. We support organizations that are working to decrease barriers to program enrollment and to increase the effectiveness of the programs so that eligible families are able to stretch their food budgets to incorporate more fresh, healthy foods.
- Supporting screening for hunger and referral to resources: Kaiser Permanente is beginning to ask patients about their food access needs during doctors’ visits and referring patients who want help to community-based resources. We understand that hunger is a health issue. It contributes to chronic disease when patients consume cheap foods of poor nutritional quality. Furthermore, patients on very tight budgets may forgo medicine so that they can eat. Through screening and referrals, we hope to increase families’ food resources to support their overall health.