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Addressing Food Insecurity in Health Care Settings

Interventions to address food insecurity in health care settings will vary by community needs, and the goals and capacity of the partner organizations. However, successful partnerships share three common elements:

  • Identify patients living in food insecure households while they are in the health care setting;
  • Refer those patients and their families to food bank agencies and programs to connect patients with healthy food access as well as application assistance for SNAP and other long-term nutrition supports;
  • Create new food distribution programs in the health care facility when there is sufficient need,  interest, and capacity, and/or existing community resources are insufficient.

Screening and Identifying Patients who are Food Insecure:

Providers across health care settings are screening patients for food insecurity, a practice recommended by numerous professional societies including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Diabetes Association

Many screening interventions use the Hunger Vital Sign™, and are increasingly being incorporated into electronic medical record systems.

Two Item Food Insecurity Screening Questions:

I’m going to read you two statements that people have made about their food situation. For each statement, please tell me whether the statement was often true, sometimes true, or never true for your household in the last 12 months.

  1. “We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” Was that often truesometimes true, or never true for your household in the last 12 months?
  2. “The food we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to get more.” Was that often truesometimes true, or never true for your household in the last 12 months?

A response of “often true” or “sometimes true” to either question = positive screen for FI. 


Screen & Intervene

Screening for food insecurity is not enough. Key to any effective partnership is a plan for supporting health care providers with ways to connect their patients with access to healthy food right away, as well as connections to benefits like SNAP that support their long-term ability to purchase healthy food. Models of referral programs and partnerships vary by community and the existing resources, but fall into several main categories:

Referrals to Off-Site Food and Benefit Assistance:

Food banks and community-based organizations can work with health care partners to create a toolkit of local resources to address the specific needs of patients, including resources for families with children, resources for seniors, or other targeted populations. However, broad referral information can be found at these links:

Provision of Food and Benefit Assistance On-Site at Health Care Facilities:

Outpatient Setting:

  • Mobile food distributions
  • On-site food pantry
  • Emergency food boxes
  • Home delivered food boxes or meals for patients with limited mobility and transportation

Hospital Setting:

  • Food bags or frozen meals to give upon discharge;
  • On-site food pantry;
  • Home delivered food boxes or meals to support patients during recover after an inpatient hospitalization;

Summer Food Service Program for children, family members or community members. For examples of current food security programs in partnership with health care organizations, visit Children’s Health Watch for more examples.