Solving Food Insecurity: A Problem That Demands Cross-Sector Collaboration

by Barbara Petee Executive Director, The Root Cause Coalition

You’re very likely familiar with the idea of treating food insecurity as a social problem. When our neighbors suffer from inadequate or unreliable access to nutritious food, many of us intuitively believe that there has been some type of failure by our society to account for the needs of the most vulnerable among us. This may seem very simple from an individual’s perspective, but consider how the problem of food insecurity might look from the perspective of the various sectors and institutions tasked with solving it.

In the health care sector, the ill effects of food insecurity are well understood. A lack of consistent access to affordable, healthy, nutritious food is associated with increased rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease and even low birth weight. In addition, food insecurity often impedes normal development in growing children and impairs their performance in school, increasing the likelihood of long-term behavioral and psychological problems.

The search for more effective methods of combating problems such as food insecurity has led to a greater understanding among health care providers as to how social factors impact an individual’s health. Issues such as housing insecurity, social isolation, racial discrimination, inadequate access to transportation, and exposure to pollutants—commonly referred to as the social determinants of health—are proven drivers of poor health outcomes and premature death that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, disabled, and communities of color. While almost everyone agrees on the importance of these factors, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about who is best positioned to address them.

The Root Cause Coalition believes that no individual sector, service or organization is equipped to solve problems of this magnitude. Through cross-sector collaboration we can—and must—tackle the root causes of health inequity. That’s why the Coalition has built a network of more than 50 of the nation’s leading health systems, hospital associations, foundations, businesses, national and community nonprofits, health insurers, academic institutions and policy centers. Together, we draw on our combined, cross-sector expertise and influence to achieve health equity through advocacy, education and research.

By bringing together partners to work in concert on problems of mutual concern, we break down the institutional silos that too often impede our progress toward health equity. Every year, these efforts coalesce in our National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health. The Summit is an unparalleled opportunity for subject-matter experts to share proven interventions and hear from leaders in the health equity movement. We believe that our Summit provides a glimpse of the future of this movement: hundreds of likeminded, cross-sector leaders working to address problems that no one can, or should, be asked to solve on their own.

Everyone deserves an equal chance to live a full, healthy life. At The Root Cause Coalition, we believe that a cross-sector effort to address the social determinants of health is the best means of securing this opportunity for all.

Barbara Petee has served as the Executive Director of The Root Cause Coalition since its founding in October 2015. Drawing from more than 32 years of experience in healthcare communications and government relations, Ms. Petee leads the Coalition’s efforts to unite cross-sector organizations under the common goal of achieving health equity. For the past decade, Ms. Petee’s focus has been addressing food insecurity and other basic needs to help develop sustainable solutions that can be scaled and replicated across the nation.