Food insecurity in Texas, how ARC physicians are helping

Recently, Austin Regional Clinic was included in an article by the Texas Medical Association about food insecurity in Texas. The article highlights the role that physicians can play in identifying and helping patients who are living with food insecurity. Because ARC Pediatricians began a program of screening patients for food insecurity a year ago last March, not long after COVID-19 hit Texas, several of our physicians were able to share their experience with this issue.

ARC began screening as a larger move to address social determinants of health, said Sangeeta S. Jain, MDPediatrician at ARC Far West. The timing was coincidental but fortunate given the pandemic’s economic toll. Dr. Jain pointed out that food insecurity underlies a range of serious health issues, including low calcium, low vitamin D, and tooth decay. Later in life, it can also worsen chronic illnesses such as hypertension and cancer, according to the USDA.

Food insecurity

The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life; it is a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household.

Food insecurity affects children’s health indirectly as well, said Marjan A. Linnell, MDPediatrician at ARC Kyle Plum Creek. For instance, a physician might prescribe an asthma inhaler for a child, but “if [parents] can’t feed their kids they’re not going to spend even $4 to buy one.”

Physicians should always assume that some of their patients face hunger, Dr. Linnell says. When more than 70 pediatricians at 20 ARC clinics across the Austin area began screening, most of the clinics found people who were food insecure, she adds.

How physicians can help

Physicians typically can help patients facing food insecurity in three ways:

  • screen patients and write prescriptions for food to be provided by a local food bank
  • work with food banks to make food available to patients in the office
  • use their offices as a place to educate the public about food through cooking or food classes

To learn more about this topic, read the full article here. If you would like to book an appointment with Dr. Linnell or Dr. Jain, you can do so online at ARCPediatrics.com.

If you or someone you know is facing food insecurity, ARC recommends at resource called findhelp.org. This website offers short term and long term solutions to multiple issues including food assistance, help paying bills, and other free or reduced cost programs, sorted by zip code.

Tags: Food insecurity, TMA