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On House Floor, McGovern Calls Hunger a Solvable Issue Key to Supporting Healthy Families

McGovern Highlights Worcester County Food Bank, Community Harvest Project, Community Servings, Other Massachusetts Efforts to Help Hungry Families

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Washington, DC, September 9, 2015 | comments

Today, Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) spoke on the House floor to highlight the connection between addressing hunger in the United States – impacting 49 million Americans – and supporting healthy families. McGovern recognized Massachusetts organizations like Worcester County Food Bank, Community Harvest Project, and Community Servings for their efforts to treat hunger as a health issue and help families in need. Video here.

Excerpts from Congressman McGovern’s floor speech today:

“Supporting healthy families and strong communities starts with access to healthy food, but for many families, it’s a struggle just to put food on the table. And a growing body of research shows why we should all be concerned with hunger as a health issue.

“For the 49 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity – or hunger – access to nutritious foods – and enough   healthy food -- is a real challenge that can have serious negative health consequences far beyond just a growling stomach.

“Hunger can exacerbate underlying medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer and can result in life-threatening complications. Not only that, hunger can result in more trips to the emergency room and more hospitalizations which only increases health care costs across the board.

“When families don’t have enough to eat, their health suffers. We hear time and time again that the current monthly SNAP benefit is inadequate. That families must scramble to cobble together enough to eat from food pantries and charities.

“As Members of Congress, we talk a lot about finding ways to save money in our health care system. In that same conversation, we need to do a better job of understanding that food is medicine. That we can’t just address hunger and health as two separate issues. They’re two sides of the same coin.

“Hunger is a health issue. And it should be treated as such.

The full text of Congressman McGovern’s floor speech is below. Click here for video of speech.

As Prepared For Delivery:

“Supporting healthy families and strong communities starts with access to healthy food, but for many families, it’s a struggle just to put food on the table. And a growing body of research shows why we should all be concerned with hunger as a health issue.

“For the 49 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity – or hunger – access to nutritious foods – and enough   healthy food -- is a real challenge that can have serious negative health consequences far beyond just a growling stomach.

“Hunger can exacerbate underlying medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer and can result in life-threatening complications. Not only that, hunger can result in more trips to the emergency room and more hospitalizations which only increases health care costs across the board.

“A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that households with low food security had 49 percent higher health care costs than those who didn’t have to worry about where their next meal was coming from. And, health care costs were an astonishing 121 percent higher for those with very low food security.

“Similarly, a 2014 article in the journal Health Affairs reported that hospitals saw a 27 percent increase in hypoglycemia cases among low income individuals at the end of the month as compared to the beginning of the month.

“You might wonder why that is. The sad truth is that these cases of hypoglycemia – or low blood sugar – are likely more prevalent at the end of the month because this is when SNAP benefits run out for many individuals and families.

“When families don’t have enough to eat, their health suffers. We hear time and time again that the current monthly SNAP benefit is inadequate. That families must scramble to cobble together enough to eat from food pantries and charities.

“Seniors are especially vulnerable to hunger as a health issue. Many seniors live on fixed incomes and are often faced with the tough choice of paying for their medications or paying for food. For seniors, taking medication on an empty stomach can be especially dangerous and may land them in the hospital.

“It is astounding that some of America’s most vulnerable families must face these challenges month after month, year after year.

“But the good news is that hunger can also be one of the most “treatable” health conditions. Hunger is solvable. We have the resources. We just need to muster the political will to end hunger now.

“One organization that has for years been doing incredible work to reframe the paradigm of hunger as a health issue is Community Servings, a Massachusetts-based non-profit that delivers free meals to homebound individuals and their families. Their meals are “medically tailored” to meet the specific dietary needs of the recipients.

“The Community Servings model addresses two of the biggest barriers that low income individuals who are dealing with extended illness face: shopping for food and preparing meals. Community Servings takes care of that so patients can focus on getting better without worrying about where their next meal is coming from.

“The Community Servings model shows great promise in not only fighting hunger but also in saving money in our health care system. A survey last year of doctors and nurses who care for Community Servings’ clients found that 96 percent said the meals improved their clients’ health and 65 percent said they believed the meals had resulted in fewer hospitalizations.

“We also need to do a better job of connecting our hospitals and community health centers and VA hospitals with farmers markets.

“Organizations like Wholesome Wave are effectively expanding their Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, where doctors can write a “prescription” for fruits and vegetables that individuals can then immediately “fill” at a farmers market that might be set up on the hospital grounds one or two days a week.

“Boston Medical Center has addressed hunger as a health issue head on with its Preventive Food Pantry permanently located in the hospital itself. Here, low income families can work with a dietician to choose foods that meet their dietary needs with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables.

“And food banks and food pantries are finding innovative ways to partner with local farms to provide more fresh produce to low-income families. I’m proud to represent one such forward-thinking partnership in my congressional district. Every year, the Community Harvest Project, run through a local farm in Grafton, Massachusetts, donates hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to the Worcester County Food Bank.

“And finally, we ought to do a better job of educating doctors and nurses about what hunger looks like. I’m always surprised when I talk to medical students that they only take one or two – if any – classes in nutrition.

“That’s why I’m proud to be a cosponsor of my friend Congressman Tim Ryan’s bill – the ENRICH  Act – which would provide grants to improve nutrition education among health care professionals.

“As Members of Congress, we talk a lot about finding ways to save money in our health care system. In that same conversation, we need to do a better job of understanding that food is medicine. That we can’t just address hunger and health as two separate issues. They’re two sides of the same coin.

“Hunger is a health issue. And it should be treated as such.

“We can and should do more to end hunger now.”

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