School's out for summer, and people are going hungry!

The Trussel Trust are making calls for donations as their new research reveals that there is an increased foodbank need, especially for British children during the holidays. They have published new figures telling us that between 1st April 2017 – 31st March 2018, their foodbank network distributed 13% increase of three day emergency food supplies on the previous year – 6% went to children. 

This is not just a UK issue; Feeding America tells us that 1 in 8 Americans are struggling with hunger, 41 million people, including nearly 13 million children! Many people living in western societies,  are facing hunger and are forced to make tough choices between buying food and medical bills, food and rent and/or food and transportation.

This struggle goes beyond harming an individual family’s future, it can harm us all.

Growing up in poverty

Growing up in poverty adversely affects a child’s educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and prospects of proper nutrition. In 2016, The World Bank and UNICEF estimated that more than 387 million children live in extreme poverty. The distinction between rich industrialised countries and poor ones is academic.  “If you had to choose between living in a poor village in India and living in the Mississippi Delta, or in a suburb of Milwaukee in a trailer park, I’m not sure who would have the better life,” says Angus Deaton, Nobel Laureate for Economics.

Given the scale of child poverty, we need to look closely at the interaction of food insecurity, decision-making and access to healthcare. Food is a key factor in the health economy. The four leading causes of death in the United States are directly linked to food: stroke, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions also absorb the largest share of spending on healthcare

Best practice

The US based organisation, Healthcare Without Harm states that “healthy food cannot be defined by nutritional quality alone. It is the end result of a food system that conserves and renews natural resources, advances social justice and animal welfare, builds community wealth, and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all eaters now and into the future.” They further explore how industrial food production methods undermine health, arguing that agricultural inputs such as antibiotics and growth hormones have compromised the clinical efficacy of medicines:

“Healthcare industry could seize an opportunity to harness its expertise and purchasing power to put an environmental nutrition approach into action and to make food a fundamental part of prevention-based health care. ”

1/3 of US hospitals are part of the Healthy Food in Healthcare network and are taking active steps to improve the quality of, and access to locally grown produce with education being provided to those accesses healthcare services.

Recently, I read about a partnership between the Boston Medical Centre and Higher Ground Farm (HGF) to build a rooftop farm of 7,000 square feet, the world’s largest, in Suffolk county, Massachussetts where food insecurity affects an estimated 84% of the population.  They plan to grow 15,000 pounds of vegetables every season – aragula, bok choy, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, kale, peppers, tomatoes – plus honey for the hospital from two new beehives. These crops are clearly needed in Suffolk county. Feeding America calculates that a further $75 million in spending would be required to fund a healthy diet for all its citizens.

A rooftop farm for Boston Medical Centre is a visionary project; and the work of Healthcare Without Harm is of vital importance, but it begs an uncomfortable question: Why are locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables available only to those who are already sick?

Underlying the 21st century crises of child poverty and food insecurity are profound questions about why we tolerate such problems at all. If managed well, the resources are available to feed the world’s population well. It’s time to re-think today’s model of healthcare provision to meet the needs of the future generations. The obvious step, long overdue, is to tackle the pandemic of poor nutrition – a common factor in many preventable health conditions.

 

 

Disclaimer: Person Before Patient is an independent social health movement. It has no affliations to, or receives funding from the inviduals or organisations referenced in this post.

If you are affected by food insecurity or the issues raised, please find more information below:

(UK) The Trussel Trust: https://www.trusselltrust.org/ 

(US) Feeding America: http://www.feedingamerica.org/

 

Ruth Wilson