Rep. Jim McGovern's 7th "End Hunger Now" Speech: "Hunger as a Health Issue"
U.S. Representative James P. McGovern
"Hunger as a Health Issue"
April 10, 2013
My grandmother used to say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. I hated it when she said that, but you know, M. Speaker - she was right. Good, nutritious food will keep you healthy.
That's because food is medicine. Fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods like beans, legumes, grains and proteins are critical for proper development - simply put, healthy people eat healthy food.
The opposite is also true. The more junk food we eat, the less healthy we are. But there are different reasons why people eat less nutritious foods. Many people choose to eat non-nutritious food. But there are many others who cannot afford to buy healthier options. These low-income households have to stretch their food dollars in order to make ends meet. This requires them to buy less nutritious, high-calorie foods that are more affordable on a fixed income. This is why we can have an obese hungry person - they're filling their stomachs with food that isn't good for them simply because it's all they can afford - or all they have access to.
This kind of diet has long-term negative effects - on individuals and on the communities where they live. M. Speaker, when we talk about ways to End Hunger Now, we must look at the way the quality of food - or the lack of quality - is impacting hunger in America.
In a 2011 report entitled -Hunger in America: Suffering We Are All Paying For,- the Center for American Progress estimated that the health costs for hunger in 2010 were at least $130 billion each year. $130 billion a year! Just for health costs related to hunger.
The authors of the report examined medical research and found that there are serious medical consequences directly related to hunger. Specifically, this research found that there is likely to be higher rates of iron deficiency, headaches, stomach aches, frequency of colds, activity-limiting health impairments, specific nutrient deficiencies, more hospitalizations, longer in-patient stays, and poorer overall health status. Along with these physical health issues, there are also mental health conditions attributable to hunger, including anxiety and irritability, depression, withdrawn behavior, psychosocial dysfunction, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and a need for mental health services.
The response is clear, Mr. Speaker: We must treat hunger as a health issue. It frustrates me that we in Congress still act like it's a better option to spend over $130 billion in hunger-related health costs than to actually prevent hunger in the first place.
Last month, in March, ProMedica and the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease released a white paper called -Addressing Hunger Essential to Improving Health.- This paper details how critically important it is to treat hunger as a health issue.
The white paper points out that hungry people of all ages - from pregnant women to children to adults to seniors - suffer from a lack of nutrients found in healthy foods. The lack of nutrients results in serious health issues, the very same health issues that cost our nation over $130 billion in health care costs alone. That's nuts!
Doctors and nurses should be looking for signs of hunger in their patients. Medical students should have more courses on nutrition. They should be treating hunger just like any other condition. If someone has high blood pressure or a rash, they get a prescription to treat that problem. Doctors should be writing food prescriptions, if that's what it takes to get nutritious food to the food insecure.
Health care organizations like ProMedica in Ohio and Michigan, UMass Memorial in Worcester, Massachusetts and Children's Health Watch in four locations, including Boston Medical Center and Drexel University, are trying to right this wrong. They promote health and wellness in general, but they are also treating hunger as a health issue. They are working to reduce the number of hospital readmissions by including food security in their patient's discharge plan. They want to make sure people don't need to be readmitted to a hospital because they suffer a setback simply because they don't have food to eat once they leave the hospital. They are also working to raise awareness about nutrition and exercise and to increase access to healthier food in under-served areas.
We need to learn from these organizations and others. That's why it's so important that the White House convene a Conference on Food and Nutrition. We're not going to End Hunger Now if we don't bring the best and brightest minds together in one place - including doctors, nurses, nutritionists, dieticians and other health professionals. We need a national plan of action, and the best way to begin is with a White House Conference.
Mr. Speaker, we know that healthy food builds healthy bodies. We know that by ignoring hunger, our nation pays hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs. We know that nutritious food is good medicine, for body and mind. We need to come together to End Hunger Now.