Food Insecurity: Addressing a Major Obstacle to Health and Wellbeing

Food—the simplicity of the word can be deceiving. Despite food being a basic necessity, about 5.5 million seniors were food insecure in 2017. However, this statistic does not factor in the economic hardships that arrived with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 2020, the unemployment rate in Maryland is 8.0%, more than double the 3.3% unemployment rate recorded in January 2020. In conjunction with decreased access to in-person care due to risk of infection, it is becoming increasingly necessary to systematically address food insecurity. 

Food insecurity can stem from a multitude of other social determinants, such as having a disability, or lack of social support, transportation, and financial resources. Left unaddressed, it can ultimately cause or exacerbate chronic diseases, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, hepatitis, arthritis, cancer, asthma, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Furthermore, the USDA reported that food insecurity foretells manifestation of 10 out of the 10 aforementioned chronic diseases, while income is only tied to the onset of hepatitis, arthritis, and COPD in adults aged 19-64 who live 200% below the poverty line. Not only does food insecurity catalyze chronic illness, but it also increases the cost of treating those illnesses, specifically in patients suffering from hypertension, arthritis, or a stroke. 

Netrin’s care team connects our patients to critical home-delivered meal services.

– Rakesh Malik, MD, Doctor’s First

“Netrin’s care team connects our patients to critical home-delivered meal services,” said Rakesh Malik, MD, of Doctor’s First. Netrin Health’s care management team is actively alleviating the cascading impact of food insecurity by addressing the roots of the problem. For example, the care team refers patients to community health workers and behavioral health therapists in order to provide a support system for those who suffer from loneliness and mental illness. 

Netrin’s care team is addressing some of the root causes of food insecurity—lack of transportation and affordability—by bringing food to patients, at a discounted price if required, through our partnership with Meals on Wheels.

A not-for-profit, Meals on Wheels has delivered more than 220 million meals to 2.4 million seniors, of whom nine out of 10 claims that the services of Meals on Wheels improved their health. Additionally, care members connect patients to local food banks and charities to ensure access to healthy food. 

To augment these efforts, social determinants of health screening tools, specifically the Accountable Health Communities tool, will be administered to certain patients with a high PHQ-9 score. These results will then be entered into Netrin’s eCare system and the respective practices’ electronic medical records (EMRs). This phased process aims to further close the loops between care managers, patients, and physicians by integrating social needs in a standardized manner. 

Although COVID-19 will continue to exacerbate the causes of food insecurity, there are also multiple resources available to continue our mission of enabling whole-person care and responding to patient needs. 

In addition to addressing food insecurity, Netrin Health offers many services, including the benefits of our interdisciplinary care team, to help support primary care practices and their patients during these unprecedented times. Contact us for further details regarding our partnership with Meals on Wheels. 

Garcia, SP.,et al., 2018. Incremental Health Care Costs Associated With Food Insecurity and Chronic Conditions Among Older Adults. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed July 28,2020

Gregory, C., et al., 2017. Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health Among Working-Age Adults.U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed July 27, 2020

Meals on Wheels, 2019. Delivering So Much More Than Just A Meal. Accessed July 28, 2020. 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Maryland Economy at a Glance.  Accessed July 28, 2020.

Wolfe, W., et al., 2003. Understanding the Experience of Food Insecurity by Elders Suggests Ways to Improve Its Measurement. The Journal of Nutrition, 133(9), 2762- 2769. Accessed July 27, 2020. 

Ziliak, J., et al., 2019. The State of Senior Hunger in American in 2017. Feeding America. Accessed July 28, 2020