Healthcare Business News

Affordable-housing advocates can help fight local hunger: report

By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: April 30, 2014 - 6:15 pm ET

Affordable-housing advocates can play a key role in addressing the risk of hunger and malnutrition among low-income populations, a new report finds.

The report's recommendations range from suggested partnerships between affordable-housing providers and local food banks and pantries to expand access to healthy food at or near affordable-housing sites, to free bowls of fresh fruit made available by property managers within the common areas of their buildings.

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Further report recommendations for affordable-housing providers include: providing free Internet access within common areas of residential buildings to allow for greater access to online food delivery services; establishing a resident purchasing collaborative to buy fresh foods in bulk to save on costs; and coordinating with schools and public health organizations to provide nutritional education to residents.

The report was released Wednesday by Enterprise Community Partners, a Columbia, Maryland-based national housing rights advocacy group.

“A lot of the focus on healthier eating really starts with education at school, but the first 1,000 days of a person’s life are really critical to forming the right neural pathways,” study co-author Andrew Jakabovics, senior director of policy development and research at Enterprise said. “When you think about where you can intersect with people at that point in their lives, you can touch people where they live, when they’re not accessing other parts of the affordable and healthy food-delivery system.”

An estimated 14.5% of Americans were “food insecure” at some point in 2012, which is defined as facing the possibility of hunger, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of that number, 34% lived in households with incomes below 185% of the federal poverty level.

People facing food insecurity are often dealing with other socioeconomic issues such as a lack of affordable stable housing, which Jakabovics said makes it logical for providers of such services to coordinate with each other to increase their overall effectiveness.

“There is a lot of really good work that’s happening now around nutrition in communities,” Jakabovics said. “But we don’t necessarily do a very good job at the moment of sitting all the right people down at the right point in time. By bringing housing into the conversation, you can potentially do a better job of reinforcing the messages others are trying to deliver, while creating a broader culture that flows through the community in a more holistic way.”

A lack of affordable housing and food insecurity are among the social factors recognized by an increasing number of health providers as being among the largest determinants of health.

A report released in January by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America found a direct correlation between poverty and higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and cancer compared to higher-income populations.

Many health systems have begun working with community organizations and social-services agencies to address the socioeconomic issues many low-income patients may face, to help them manage medical conditions that have the potential of becoming more complex and as a result, more expensive to treat.

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson

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