How do we address this troubling situation? First, we must recognize it as what it truly is: a full-blown health crisis.
To address it, we must do what we do with any other pandemic: raising public awareness about the magnitude of the problem and bringing together disparate stakeholders —communities, policy makers, educators and others — to help take impactful action and turn the tide.
We can and must inverse this ratio in the US by investing in a few rudimentary food-related social services. We can provide new mothers with the education they need to better understand the nutritional needs of their babies, can assist school districts in offering healthy food choices to struggling students without risking shame or stigma and can make sure our seniors receive healthy and nutritious meals directly to their homes.
To meet the challenge of reducing food insecurity, many health systems across the nation have begun addressing the issue as they would any other public health epidemic. A few months ago, for example, my colleagues and I at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center teamed up with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and the Mid-Ohio Farmacy program to identify patients whose ailments — mainly diabetes, obesity and hypertension — stem from food insecurity.
Our physicians give them not only prescriptions for medicine but also forms that provide them access to extra fresh, nutritious food at any of 12 participating food pantries. Similarly, we’re currently converting a former Columbus Public Library location into a community food education center, aware that food insecure people need not only products but also the knowledge of how to prepare and cook healthy meals to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.
This alone, again, isn’t enough. Like health organizations all over the country, we continue to work with local organizations to raise awareness that fresh, nutritious food is a basic right, not a luxury, and that fast food, however available, ought not to be the default. We work with local food-related social services, empowering them to do their important work. And we continue to educate everyone from students to policymakers about the opportunities and obligations to make sure we all have access to the food we need to survive and to thrive.
Still, you hardly have to be a doctor to see why our nation’s current approach isn’t working. All you have to do is listen to Joe Burrow, a great quarterback and a compassionate human being, who gave us all a very important and very urgent call to end food insecurity in 2020.