Combating ‘hidden epidemic’ of food insecurity requires consistent screening, collaboration
HOUSTON — Diabetes care and education specialists should address the “hidden epidemic” of food insecurity by beginning with their own communities, according to a presenter at the American Association of Diabetes Educators annual meeting.
“Food insecurity is very common in the United States,” Clancy C. Harrison, MS, RDN, FAND, a dietitian and food justice advocate at Healthy Living Lifestyle in Dallas, Pennsylvania, told Endocrine Today. “Everyone regardless of industry and scope of practice works with people struggling with access to a steady supply of healthy food.”
According to Harrison, many groups lack consistent access to adequate and healthy food supplies. Food insecurity can exacerbate or increase the chances of developing chronic illnesses and other medical conditions, such as diabetes.
Diabetes care and education specialists can help tackle the problem by focusing on “food dignity.”
“Food dignity, to me, is a cultural collaborative honoring everyone’s right to nourishing foods at all time,” Harrison said during a presentation.
This driving principle is at the center of the strategies Harrison recommended for care providers working with those affected by food insecurity.
“A patient cannot follow a meal plan to manage diabetes unless they have access to the food. Asking a patient about food access is the only way we will know if someone is food insecure,” Harrison told Endocrine Today. “Health care providers must screen all patients at all visits to normalize food assistance programs and reduce stigma associated with food insecurity.”
The screening process should prioritize privacy and respect for patients in language choice and should be completed when patients first arrive and then included in electronic health records. Harrison recommended posing two statements to patients, preferably in written form: “Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy it” and “Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.”
Food insecurity can be identified if someone says that these events occurred even occasionally, if not frequently.
If a person does experience food insecurity, their diabetes care and education specialist should be able to point them in the direction of resources that can help, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school feeding programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Feeding America, according to Harrison.
Following up and continuing the dialogue about how each individual is using these tools to address food insecurity is also important, according to Harrison. Diabetes care and education specialists can amplify the message about food insecurity beyond the professional setting and seek to address it cooperatively.
“If we can improve healthy food access, we’re going to have better outcomes,” Harrison said. – by Phil Neuffer
Harrison CC, et al. GS02. Presented at: American Association of Diabetes Educators; Aug. 9-12, 2019; Houston.
Disclosure: Harrison reports she is a member of the speaker’s bureau for the National Dairy Council.