When the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health convenes on Sept. 28, it will be the first time in more than 50 years that such a conference has been held. The 1969 conference title notably had the word “food” instead of hunger, and it resulted in the creation of programs such as school lunches, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and changes in food labeling.
With a goal to “end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension,” the White House has laid out five pillars to define the scope of the conference. Those pillars, which are explored in more detail in the full report, are: Improve food access and affordability; integrate nutrition and health; empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices; support physical activity for all; and enhance nutrition and food security research.
These pillars are closely aligned with AdventHealth’s philosophy of CREATION Health — which stands for Choice, Rest, Environment, Activity, Trust, Interpersonal Relationships, Outlook, and Nutrition. Guided by this philosophy, AdventHealth delivers whole-person care within the walls of its facilities and in the communities it serves. AdventHealth’s commitment to providing whole-person care already has manifested in the work being done across the organization to address social determinants of health, like food security.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 33.8 million people lived in food-insecure households in 2021. For the 5 million children included in that number, not knowing where the next meal is coming from can have far-ranging effects.
“Both adequate quantity and the right balance of nutrition are extremely important for children's mental health, for optimal brain development and functioning. Without it, a child may experience problems with memory, concentration, learning, behavior problems and even mood changes in certain cases,” says Tina Gurnani, MD, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist with AdventHealth Medical Group in the Central Florida Division. “The anxiety of food insecurity can also be a traumatic experience for many children and lead to unhealthy body image problems and maladaptive eating patterns. In addition, children who are also seeing parents struggle with food insecurity can experience stress and sadness as well.”
As a nonprofit health care system, AdventHealth undertakes community health needs assessments (CHNAs) every three years to identify the top needs in the communities it serves and, based on those needs, develops community health plans. Though some AdventHealth facilities are still working to finalize their assessments for their 2023-2025 plans, at least 11 already have identified nutrition as a top priority impacting their community.
“Because of this, we are excited by the national efforts and policy discussions taking place to address this important issue,” says Susana Molina Ramos, director of public policy for AdventHealth. For its part, AdventHealth supports legislation that increases access to nutritious food for vulnerable populations, such as the Farm Bill, which ensures funding for food programs such as SNAP, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, as well as the bipartisan Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act.
In the meantime, AdventHealth team members across the country participate in a wide variety of initiatives addressing food insecurity. Among those efforts:
- With a total investment of $15,000 in 2021, AdventHealth provided 31,332 meals to 746 students in partnership with Backpack Buddies in Florida’s West Volusia County.
- The “Food is Health” program developed in West Florida provides support to people who have limited access to healthy food. In 2021 and 2022, the program has coordinated 34 nutrition classes for 547 adults and distributed 3,314 produce vouchers amounting to $33,140 in fresh fruits and vegetables for those living in food deserts.
- In Kansas, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, among its many initiatives, supported Shawnee Elementary School’s emergency food pantry by helping assemble healthy food for kids to take home over winter break. In addition, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission partnered with Renewed Hope to fund a mobile food pantry providing access to fresh vegetables and nutritious food.
- AdventHealth partnered with the School District of Osceola County in Florida to expand the SMART bus initiative, which provides food, nutrition education and general academic support to meet the needs of more than 2,500 homeless students.
- In Illinois, AdventHealth Bolingbrook partnered with other community organizations to run a pop-up mobile pantry for low-income patients and to set up micropantries. The story behind the building of a freestanding micropantry near AdventHealth Hinsdale illustrates one team member’s commitment to extending the healing ministry of Christ through his handiwork.
- Team members at various AdventHealth campuses held food drives during the summer to help fill the void left during the months when some children don’t have access to free meals provided during the school year.
- AdventHealth University (AHU) has operated a Student Food Pantry since 2019 in response to many students stating a need for food assistance. Since its inception, the pantry has served approximately 25 students per trimester per year, with an increase in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The AHU Student Food Pantry runs solely on the generous donations of faculty and staff at AHU and the support of Second Harvest Food Bank through its School Market Program.
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