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Food Banks Promote Health for Families

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 Hello Salty Scoop readers! Today I am pleased to turn the blog over to a fellow registered dietitian, Christine Rivera. Christine is the Community Health and Nutrition Manager for Feeding America, where she supports the nutrition education and health strategies of the nationwide network of food banks.

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During my time working as a Registered Dietitian for a food bank, I saw how important it was to provide not just healthy foods, like vegetables, fruit, lean meats and low-fat/non-fat dairy, but to also provide health education for the food-insecure people and families we were serving. Food security is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having “access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.”

In order to help people move toward food security and stable health, the Feeding America network of food banks has extended its focus to include providing more nutritious food and health education in food-insecure communities.

Studies show that adults experiencing food insecurity have a higher risk of diet-related diseases. The Feeding America Hunger in America 2014 (HIA 2014) study shows that many households served by the network of food banks are dealing with diet-related health issues that require changing the way they eat:

  • 58% of households have a member with high blood pressure
  • 33% of households have a member with diabetes

Unfortunately, for many household the healthy foods recommended to help manage these conditions are often unavailable unaffordable in the communities in which they live.

Hunger in America 2014 also found that:

  • 79% of client households buy inexpensive, unhealthy foods just to make ends meet, and
  • 55% of client households report using three or more coping strategies, like buying inexpensive, unhealthy foods, to manage food security in the past year.

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While coping strategies are a reality for many clients and their family members, study findings indicate that they still want to have a healthier diet:

  • 55% of client households identified fresh fruit and vegetables as one of their most desired items when visiting a food pantry.
  • 47% cited protein food items, such as meat, as a desired item
  • 40% cited dairy products as a desired item.

Currently, the Feeding America network is working to meet this need. Feeding America categorizes foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy as “Foods to Encourage.” Sixty-seven percent of the foods we distribute are considered “Foods to Encourage.” But even more nutritious food is needed for food-insecure people to be able to manage their health.

In addition to providing healthy foods, food banks are collaborating with other community-based organizations and healthcare centers to become partners in promoting health in the communities they serve. And healthcare organizations working with food banks are better understanding food insecurity and are able to identify it as a potential risk factor for people managing diet-related diseases.

Health professionals interested in learning more about the effects of food insecurity on diet-related disease can take action:

  • Watch and share the video: Illuminating Intersections: Hunger and Health. This video is intended to show communities, advocates, partners, policymakers, boards of directors, volunteers, etc. the cycle of food insecurity and how nutrition and health play major roles.Feeding America also has a toolkit with talking points, resources and sources to accompany the video.
  • The Healthy Food Bank Hub site serves as a platform of collaboration to partner public health and hunger-relief community organizations that are uniquely positioned to address poor nutrition, hunger and health.
  • Health professionals can also customize and load the Healthy Food Bank Hub Widget for direct access to tools and resources.

The Feeding America network is committed to creating healthier, more food-secure communities. Feeding America continues to work closely with community health partners and health professionals to help fight hunger and promote health for families facing hunger. Together, we can solve hunger while promoting health.

-Christine Rivera, RD, Community Health and Nutrition Manager, Feeding America

Christine Rivera has been working as a hunger relief/health professional for almost 10 years.  As Feeding America’s Community Health and Nutrition Manager, Christine supports the nutrition education and health strategies of the nationwide network of food banks.

As a Registered Dietitian, Christine has spent much of her career in public health and is personally committed to providing healthy food to families in need. She gained her hunger relief experience while working at the Food Bank of Western New York at different food banking levels. She worked as the Nutrition Resource Manager, Agency Programs Manager, and then most recently as the Agency Services Director. Christine has the firsthand knowledge of the challenges faced by food banks and has implemented nutrition focused changes that have helped to increase “Foods To Encourage”, deliver effective nutrition education, and provide more nutrition and food safety resources to member agencies.

Christine is a graduate of South Dakota State University and received her internship at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, NY.