A Meal or medication: which would you choose?

February 11, 2016
by Margaret Isham


Consistently eating nutritious foods is a challenge for many Americans. Personally, while I desire a diet that is constantly filled with foods such as leafy greens, fresh fruit, and fish, it is not always my reality due to factors such as work, school, and family obligations. Maintaining a healthy diet each day is difficult enough, not to mention if I had to factor in a lower (or no) income and additional necessities, such as medical care, or feeding a family. Making difficult tradeoffs between basic needs is a daily reality for individuals and families visiting the food pantries and meal programs served by the Feeding America network.  

Of the 60,000 individuals surveyed in the Hunger in America 2014 study, 79 percent of households reported purchasing inexpensive, unhealthful foods to feed their family, while at the same time 55 percent desire more access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, 66 percent reported choosing between paying for food or medicine and/or medical care in the prior year. Compounding issues linked to limited household budgets and healthy food access – as well as necessary tradeoffs between basic needs – contribute to the fact that numerous people served by the Feeding America network face substantial health challenges, many being specific to diet-sensitive diseases.

In response, Feeding America has taken steps to raise awareness and take action on the entangled relationship between food insecurity, nutrition and health. Over the past several years, multiple initiatives have been implemented:

  • Foods to Encourage (F2E) tracks healthy food categories (e.g., fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, etc.) throughout food banks and was designed to more accurately describe nutritional contributions and promote an increased distribution of these high-quality foods.
  • HungerandHealth.org brings quality recipes, tools, information and strategies related to hunger, nutrition and health to professionals addressing hunger, as well as people experiencing hunger.
  • Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion examines opportunities for food banks to form partnerships with health care organizations to encourage practices such as food insecurity screenings in an effort to help bridge the health and hunger gap.
  • FAITH-DM (Feeding America Intervention Trial for Health – Diabetes Mellitus), a current randomized controlled trial (RCT), is designed to ensure the benefits expected from implementing diabetes interventions similar to those in the Diabetes Pilot across the network of food banks are more accurately understood.

While these efforts have sparked conversation and action, we continue to explore opportunities and solutions for alleviating the difficult tradeoffs between basic needs that many are forced to make each day. Feeding America is continuing to lay the groundwork with donors and partners to optimize distribution and increase access to Foods to Encourage and federal nutrition programs, as well as develop solutions to end hunger.

How can you get help to lessen the tradeoffs?

Are you a professional looking to learn more about the intersection of food insecurity, nutrition and health?  And check out our Illuminating Intersections: Hunger and Health video below.

*Margaret Isham is a nutrition associate at Feeding America.