Food insecurity has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as unemployment, illness and death have caused a major financial strain in many households. It is defined as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food”, while hunger is “an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 38.3 million people in the U.S. experienced food insecurity, including 12 million children, in 2020. More than 60 million people relied on food banks and other community-based programs.
Fortunately, hospitals, health systems, and providers are stepping up to address food insecurity because they realize it is a social determinate of health. They screen patients for social determinants of health and refer them to resources to address them. One hospital in our nation’s capital, Medstar Washington Hospital Center, is addressing food insecurity for patients and employees by opening an onsite food bank, supplying food boxes to patients at discharge, and offering food vouchers that can be used in the hospital cafeteria. Read the Medstar Washington Hospital Center case study.