Addressing food insecurity in the community

9 Essential Skills for a Food Insecurity Screening Program

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is hitting millions of Americans. More people are out of work and dealing with higher medical bills. You’ve probably seen an uptick in your agency of people who are making decisions about paying bills or buying groceries, which is a direct route to food insecurity. These decisions aren’t likely to get easier any time soon.

Going to food banks and assistance programs like SNAP is a tough decision for some people, and it could be one they don’t know how to make. You can make it easier by creating a food insecurity screening program at your organization.

This kind of program can help you find people who both don’t have enough continuous food, but also enough nutritious food. People in food deserts have a harder time finding fresh nutritious food.

Adding food insecurity screening to your agency

Your agency might be like many of the healthcare systems that traditionally build programs to provide dietary counseling, but who neglect to include anything to address food insecurity.

This is a serious oversight, because it’s even more important than ever to eat nutritiously, because research shows that people with obesity and diet-related diseases who get COVID-19 have worse health outcomes.

If you’re ready to take steps to build a screening program at your agency so your staff can refer patients and clients to community food resources to support food security, make sure your staff is trained in these essential skills.

9 Essential Skills for a Food Insecurity Screening Program

  1. Food insecurity basics
  2. Nutrition
  3. Social determinants of health
  4. Food insecurity screening processes
  5. How to use screening tool kits
  6. Community needs and assessments
  7. Financial management
  8. COVID-19 resources
  9. Communication skills

1.      Food insecurity basics

Training individuals and teams on what food insecurity is and how to navigate food assistance since COVID-19 is imperative to reaching impacted communities. Feeding America provides useful reports since COVID-19.

2.      Nutrition

Provide nutrition education so that employees completing outreach can educate those at risk or suffering from food insecurity on the importance of healthy eating.

Make sure your team understands the basics of healthy eating and active living so they can promote healthy lifestyles to clients.

This includes knowing how to parse misinformation from scientific information and provide reliable resources.

“While there is general agreement that food has an impact on health,” Colin Hung says in the Healthcare Leadership Blog, “the specific foods and their impact on health is often contradictory and confusing. Carbs are good. Carbs are bad. Dairy is good, but not too much. Fruits are good for you, but too much sugar can be harmful…or is it just refined sugar?”

3.      Social determinants of health

Where a person walks around, earns and spends money, and lives close to all have a strong impact on their health. A full understanding of social determinants of health is vital for understanding how and where health inequities happen, and how these factors might affect food insecurity and overall health outcomes.

A good understanding of social determinants is also helpful to be able to recognize barriers to good health, which will also be barriers to healthy food.

4.      Food insecurity screening processes

It cannot be stressed enough that households that are already vulnerable to food insecurity pre-pandemic are mainly found in communities of color, inner city and rural areas, and low-income homes. These communities always face battles in health equity and deserve visibility when it relates to their health, especially now.

Some programs, such as the King County Healthcare and Food Insecurity Learning Network, offer in-depth training that show participants how to sensitively screen.

5.      How to use screening tool kits

Feeding America has a useful Food Insecurity Screening Toolkit for how healthcare and non-health care professionals might treat food insecurity in individuals. If you are a member of a clinic that is not screening for food insecurity, consider standardizing the Hunger Vital Sign tool.

6.      Community needs and assessments

Consider the barriers the populations you serve are facing. Are they elderly and in need of delivery services? Are they grade school children that rely on school lunches? Does the household have a personal device or stable internet to access a form they need to fill out?

7.      Financial management

Likewise, employees will benefit from being able to educate others, budgeting in particular, during a time of high unemployment.

8.      COVID-19 resources

Right now, the most powerful tool is learning what your community needs and what aid they are eligible to receive. Research and compile COVID-19 food assistance resources. Encourage your team to become knowledgeable about assistance on the federal and state levels since COVID-19. Many programs have become flexible allowing more to qualify for benefits; see a list below of a few resources you can begin to research.

9.      Communication skills

Again, many are new to experiencing food insecurity. They may feel ashamed, so it is appropriate to let them know that they are not alone. Normalize the need for assistance with communication skills.

Interested in more skills to develop your community oriented staff? Read about how they can advance their career.