Hunger lurks everywhere in the United States with nearly 50 million people struggling to find their next meal. Whether you work in media, counseling, or food service, all dietitians have the power to influence food insecurity rates. Together, we can improve the health of our next generation by transforming how food insecurity is approached, discussed, and treated in the dietetics field.
To change the perception of food insecurity, we must understand that hunger in the United States is a common occurrence and a hidden epidemic. At a moment’s notice anyone at anytime can find themselves in a life-changing situation such as job loss, medical diagnosis, divorce, or death of a family member. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with food assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a major barrier to using vital food assistance programs.
To win the war on hunger and improve the health of our nation, dietitians must shift the way we collectively talk about food and counsel clients, which can be done in three simple ways.
1. Increase the Promotion of Affordable Foods That Are Nourishing.
The foods I often promote in the media are packed with nutrients and can help nourish a client for less than $0.20 per serving.
5 Nourishing Foods for $0.20 or Less per Serving
- A whole chicken egg contains 6 g protein and is packed with 13 vitamins and minerals.
- 1/2 cup dry lentils provides 10 g protein, 11 g fiber, and six vitamins and minerals.
- 1/3 cup uncooked oatmeal contains 8 g protein, 6 g fiber, 6 vitamins and minerals.
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter contains 8 g protein, 8 vitamins and minerals.
- 1 medium potato has 4 g protein, 5 g fiber, 5 vitamins and minerals.
2. Incorporate Dignity Into All Aspects of the Food Assistance Process.
There are a couple of ways dietitians can add dignity to a process that’s often shamed and misunderstood:
Incorporating Dignity Into Daily Dietetics
- Refer to food assistance programs as an opportunity to maintain or improve the health of clients.
- Always describe food assistance with positive words.
- Share positive success stories of food assistance.
- Educate family, colleagues, students, and friends on the positive impact food assistance programs have on health, academics, and the economy.
- If you work with food assistance programs, be creative. At our food pantry, we invite students to play the piano while clients pick up their food orders.
3. Screen for Food Insecurity at Every Client Visit.
Improve a patient’s health outcome by screening for food insecurity using a validated two-statement tool, The Hunger Vital SignTM. The tool measures a family’s concern regarding their access to food. Patients answer by choosing “often true,” “sometimes true,” or “never true.”
The two statements are:
- “Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”
- “Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have the money to get more.”
If a patient answers “often true” or “sometimes true” to one or both statements, the family is at risk of food insecurity. After a positive screening, dietitians can refer the patient to local public health professionals and community resources that can help with food assistance programs.
Dietitians are key in the fight against hunger in the United States. All of us have the power to help eradicate the stigma associated with food assistance, and it starts with each of us.
— Clancy Cash Harrison, MS, RDN, FAND is a pediatric dietitian, author of Feeding Baby, TEDx speaker, and food justice advocate. She discloses that she has worked with the Egg Nutrition Center to produce educational materials for health care professionals regarding affordable foods and food insecurity screening. You can find more information about Clancy at www.ClancyHarrison.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
* To view her TEDx presentation The Shocking Truth About Food Insecurity click on the video below.