Hunger and health: Making the connection


Heart Health
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Children need reliable access to healthy food to thrive. Food provides the foundation for healthy growth and development, yet almost 1 out of 4 children in Harris County do not have consistent access to affordable and nutritious food. Food insecurity, or the limited or unreliable availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe foods, impacts more than 700,000 people in Harris County each year. 

Food insecurity negatively impacts health. Research across the lifespan indicates the lack of access to reliable healthy food has a variety of significant effects on the health of individuals as they age. Children living with food insecurity are more likely to have asthma, iron-deficiency anemia, behavioral disorders and cognitive impairment. Pregnant women are at greater risk for iron-deficiency anemia, as well as excess weight gain, anxiety, depression and smaller, sicker infants. Adults who are food insecure are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and report more mental health problems.

To address food insecurity, there are many organizations across the Houston region that are supporting families. To name a few, the Houston Food Bank provides 83 million nutritious meals each year to food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers and other agencies, feeding 800,000 people each year. Kids’ Meals Houston delivers 2,500 healthy meals daily to Houston’s hungriest preschool-aged children. The Harris County BUILD Health Partnership implemented a food prescription program where health care providers write prescriptions for healthy food to local food pantries. 

Given the connection between food and health, many health care providers across Houston and Harris County have begun to screen patients for food insecurity and to refer food insecure patients to food pantries and resources. In response, Texas Children’s Hospital Section of Public Health Pediatrics formed a workgroup to bring together health care providers, academics, local health departments and community nonprofits to address screening for food insecurity in health care practices. Our workgroup recently released a report, Food Insecurity Screening in Houston and Harris County: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. The report provides local health care professionals with practical advice on how to screen for food insecurity and how to respond to a positive screen. The report also includes an extensive list of available food programs and resources, and highlights the need for more research to understand what food programs are most beneficial to food insecure children’s health and development. While research studies have demonstrated the link between lack of food and poor health, we still are learning the best way to identify and support children and families who do not have reliable access to food. We ultimately want to understand why children and families are food insecure, and prevent them from ever being at risk.

If you are looking for additional food resources visit the Houston Food Bank’s agency locator or the extensive list of food resources in our report. 

If you’re interested in finding your nearest Texas Children’s Pediatrics location, click here.