Insufficient access to nutrition has become a public health threat in the United States, amplifying existing food insecurity and social problems, American College of Physicians said Monday.
With about 10% of the US population suffering from food insecurity, more needs to be done to address the source of the problem and strengthen public health, the organization said in a new position paper.
Achieving these goals means empowering physicians and other healthcare professionals to better consider the social drivers of health occurring beyond their doors, according to the article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Boosting access to good nutrition is a public health imperative,” said Ryan Mire, president of the American College of Physicians, in a video statement accompanying the paper.
“We know that food insecurity is associated with poorer mental and physical health, poorer health outcomes, and increased risk of diet-related diseases and health problems,” added Mire, whose organization, which represents American internists, is the largest medical specialty group. in the country.
Food insecurity in the United States is linked to a variety of health issues, such as increased risk of birth defects, anemia, low nutrient intakes, cognitive problems, asthma, poor health oral health and an increased risk of mental and behavioral health problems in children, according to the position paper.
For non-elderly adults who suffer from food insecurity, the article identified an association with lower nutrient intakes, higher rates of mental health problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and poorer health and sleep test results.
When it comes to the elderly, the authors also observed lower nutrient intakes, as well as poorer health status, higher rates of depression, and increased limitations in daily activities.
“Physicians and other clinicians should educate themselves on the prevalence of food insecurity and its health consequences,” Mire said.
The American College of Physicians therefore suggests that physicians and healthcare professionals incorporate “screening tools for dietary nutrition and other social factors of health as an integral part of medical practice,” Mire added. .
The position paper provided several specific recommendations, calling on officials to make food insecurity a policy and funding priority as part of a broader effort to encourage safe and healthy diets.
The authors urged lawmakers to improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program to better address the needs and health of food insecure people. Meanwhile, they suggested the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services develop, test, and support innovative models that incorporate benefits related to food insecurity issues.
“Strict qualification requirements and inadequate benefit calculation formulas have created a case scenario where it is still insufficient for patients to be able to afford healthy and nutritious food,” Mire said.
“Almost 2 in 3 food aid recipients have had to choose between paying for food or paying for their medical bills or medication in the past year,” he added.
Healthcare professionals should initiate activities that could help them understand and alleviate food insecurity issues faced by their patients, according to the document.
In addition to screening patients for food insecurity, some of these efforts could include integrating food insecurity into medical education curricula as well as implementing tools to refer patients in need to community and government resources, the authors explained.
“Doctors cannot do this alone. These efforts must be supported by governments, payers and other stakeholders,” Mire said.
“Looking at the big picture, we need to undertake efforts to reform our food nutrition systems and research and implement innovative and sustainable systems to address food insecurity,” he added.