Hunger, Health & Equity

by Traci Simmons, MPH and Rucha Kandlur Feeding America

A year later, and COVID-19 continues to deeply impact communities of color.

The last year has brought into sharper focus health and economic inequities within Black, Latino, and Native American communities in the United States. These inequities are generational implications of inadequate access to basic needs such as food, clean water, housing etc. This lack of access stems from institutionalized discriminatory policies, and environmental factors, compounded by limited access to socially and culturally relevant care due to a longstanding history of racism and bias in health care.

Food insecurity is an economic issue and a modifiable social determinant of health with substantial impacts on health and well-being across a lifespan.

Black, Latino, and Native American households are disproportionately affected by food insecurity compared to their white peers. Feeding America estimates that 1 in 5 Black, 1 in 6 Latino, and 1 in 4 Native American households were food insecure prior to the pandemic. Moreover, we expect food insecurity to increase locally in every county, congressional district, and state because of COVID-19.

Food insecurity does not occur in a silo and is often exacerbated by factors like poverty, poor diet quality and chronic disease. Inadequate access to consistent and sufficient healthy food leads individuals to engage in difficult decisions and coping strategies that can result in an increased risk of chronic disease. Chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and worsening mental health have disparate effects on Black, Latino, and Native American communities. As such, addressing and eliminating the negative social determinants of health that can have a deep impact on health outcomes is of increasing importance.

Feeding America is committed to addressing racial and health inequities within the communities we serve.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Feeding America established a Public Health Committee and recently launched its subgroup, the Health Equity Action League (HEAL) to accelerate efforts in addressing the root causes of health inequity in the communities we serve. The HEAL focuses on solutions and supports that inform models of community health, striving to be free of injustices and inequities. To ensure collective action towards identifying solutions with communities adversely impacted by racial inequities, the HEAL developed foundational issue briefs describing food and health disparities within Black, Latino and Native American populations. There are tangible actions food banks and community partners can take to advance health equity. Health Equity Action Items:

  • Align with national, state and local organizations committed to improving health and advancing equity in communities of color.
  • Release a statement signaling a mutual commitment to health equity and your shared vision on how to advance it.
  • Build trust, positive interactions and communication with people of color in your community to better understand unique social and systemic factors that contribute to food insecurity and poor health.
  • Develop interventions with local health care organizations to connect people of color to critical resources aimed at correcting food insecurity and other social determinants of health.
  • Help make “the healthy choice the easy choice” through improved access to culturally appropriate nutritious food, nutrition education, health literacy programs and other services in your community

We all have a role to play in sustainable systems change.

As Feeding America embarks on its health equity journey, we recognize our contributions to this work and hold ourselves accountable to the commitments we have made to reduce racial and health inequities. Great progress is being made, and we will join with the communities we serve, food banks and partners to ensure all have fair and just opportunities to live long, healthy lives.

Traci Simmons is a program manager on Feeding America’s Health and Nutrition team. She manages food bank – healthcare partnerships and leads the organization’s health equity initiatives to advance network learning, competency development, and action on ways to address health inequities through partnerships and interventions.

Rucha Kandlur is a Health Equity Fellow on Feeding America’s Health and Nutrition team. She is a graduate student working on her MPH in Social and Behavioral Sciences, and supports the team in their efforts to address health inequities.