State has high rates of hunger, food insecurity among children and seniors
Baton Rouge, La. – National Nutrition Month, observed each March, provides an opportunity for communities to come together to increase awareness of healthy eating habits and informed food choices, but Louisiana Healthcare Connections is taking it one step further in a state that ranks among the poorest in the nation for food insecure children and seniors. The health insurance company is focusing its National Nutrition Month efforts on promoting the availability of community-level resources to help families and individuals access healthy foods.
Food insecurity, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle, has long been an issue for Louisiana. In the 2019 America’s Health Rankings, Louisiana, at 21.7 percent, scored the highest rate in the nation of adults ages 60 and older who faced the threat of hunger in the previous 12 months. This rate increased by 27 percent between 2001 and 2016, and it is expected to rise even higher through 2050 as senior populations continue to age.
Feeding America estimates that one in four children in Louisiana live in households that are food insecure – a rate that rises to one in three in rural parishes where accessibility to food resources is limited. The state currently ranks as the third highest in the nation in rates of food insecure children, according to the U.S. Hunger Atlas.
“These statistics have far-reaching implications on individual health,” explained John Kight, DNP, RN, FNPC, Senior Vice President of Population Health for Louisiana Healthcare Connections. “People who are food insecure have higher rates of chronic illness, are hospitalized more often and use the emergency room more often than those who are not. While it is true that making healthy decisions about nutrition is important, we understand that it is hard to do when you do not have access to healthy foods. That’s why, for National Nutrition Month, we are sharing information about how to find local resources to improve food access.”
The health plan has launched a free, online database of community resources to help Louisiana residents locate social services in their areas. The Community Services Directory, located at www.Resources.ChooseLouisianaHealth.com, allows users to search by city or zip code for local programs like food banks, meal delivery and hot meals, as well as resources such as shelter, senior services, mental health, and housing and utility assistance among others.
Louisiana Healthcare Connections has also created regional self-referral forms that individuals may download and print from its website at the links below and take to food banks in their areas for assistance:
· Central Louisiana: www.LaHealth.cc/centrallouisiana
· Northeast Louisiana: www.LaHealth.cc/northeastlouisiana
· Northwest Louisiana: www.LaHealth.cc/northwestlouisiana
· Greater Baton Rouge: www.LaHealth.cc/batonrouge
· New Orleans: www.LaHealth.cc/nola
· Acadiana: www.LaHealth.cc/acadiana
Each form also includes information about SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, which may provide eligible families and individuals with food assistance benefits.
“Food insecurity is a sensitive issue,” Kight said. “We developed these tools so that families and individuals in need can access and use them with dignity. They are not just for our members, but for anyone who needs them.”
In addition, Louisiana Healthcare Connections created a toolkit to assist healthcare providers in identifying and addressing hunger and food insecurity at the point of care. The free toolkit, available at www.LaHealth.cc/foodinsecuritytoolkit, includes a screening tool that allows providers to measure their patients’ concerns about access to food and localized referral forms for food banks in the providers’ service area. The kit also features education for providers about how to accurately code incidences of food insecurity and instructions about how to refer food insecure patients to care management programs for follow-up.
“Healthcare providers are often the first to know when a patient is suffering from food insecurity, and we want to make sure we are giving providers the tools they need to respond to that issue,” said Kight. “We also want to make sure we are all taking a proactive role in documenting the full impact of food insecurity in our state so we can all work together to reverse those trends.”
Louisiana Healthcare Connections also offers a series of Community Health Grants that provides funding to eligible schools, community organizations and healthcare providers in support of programs that address hunger and food insecurity at the community level. This grant program has expanded each year and has awarded more than $150,000 to eligible entities across the state since it launched in 2018.
“This program allows us to partner with organizations that share our commitment to improving access to healthy foods for Louisiana families,” Kight noted. “These partnerships are key to combatting food insecurity and ultimately, improving health across vulnerable populations.”
The next grant cycle will open in April 2020. Organizations, schools and healthcare providers interested in applying for a Community Health Grant may visit
www.LouisianaHealthConnect.com/grants for more information about the program.