March 19, 2013
by Eric Olsen

This post is provided by Eric Olsen, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Feeding America. This post is part of a series for National Nutrition Month®.

"Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day." That sounds like a great client-centric goal for Feeding America, doesn't it? Don't we want our clients to be able to eat right, in a way that's right for them, based on their culture, and their choices, and to be able to do that every day? I'll be presumptuous and say that just about everyone in the food bank network would say that we'd like to see this outcome for our clients.

Of course, since you are reading this blog, you already know that "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day." is this year's theme for National Nutrition Month. It's interesting that the theme would fit so perfectly as a goal statement for Feeding America.

For too long the nutrition, public health, and anti-hunger communities haven't worked together to address client needs. In fact, they've been in opposition on some issues. That's changing as the two communities begin to work together in recognition that food insecurity is the flip-side of obesity and other diet-related diseases. Simply put, food insecurity is a public health issue too, and to help clients we need to address both obesity and food insecurity.

We have a lot to learn from each other, but I think that nutrition and public health will be a major area for future growth in the network. Think about it. Our social discourse isn't around hunger, it's about obesity and other diet-related diseases. Engaging in efforts to address obesity helps to ensure the relevance of hunger and the role of food banks in addressing major social problems.

As our society struggles to come to grips with the obesity crisis and the corresponding impact on our health care costs -- which are simply unsustainable -- we need to be able to reach low-income communities, which have a high prevalence of obesity and diet related disease, in addition to have high food insecurity rates. Feeding America's food bank network may be one of the strongest platforms to reach low-income people, and the Bristol Myers Squibb diabetes pilot shows the potential we have to support clients both with food AND disease management, including potentially reducing their health care costs.

Yet if we hope to leverage public health energy and funding into the food bank network, we need to continue to engage and evolve in how we think, talk and act about nutrition in the work of food banks, including improving the mix of products we distribute and building new partnerships with the nutrition and public health community. It's basic to our business, it's good for clients and society, and it's a major pathway for the future. Triple bottom line anyone?

Tags: Food Bank Network

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