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Published: Saturday, 6/15/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

GUEST COLUMN

In Toledo, hunger is a health issue

BY RANDY OOSTRA
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF PROMEDICA
Oostra Oostra
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A few years ago, ProMedica started taking a deeper look at obesity prevention and education — a natural concern for a nonprofit, community-based health-care system. As we examined the connections among obesity, access to high-quality food, and poor nutrition, an often overlooked but equally important link surfaced: hunger as a health issue.

ProMedica serves thousands of nutritious meals to patients, visitors, and staff every day. Yet we had not fully considered what happens at mealtime outside our hospitals’ walls, and how food insecurity affects patients’ health.

Can discharged patients take their medication with food as directed, so they can continue to recover? Or do they have only enough money to buy medication or food — or worse, not enough for either?

How can patients get needed nutrients to help ward off colds, stomach aches, depression, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses? How does lack of access to healthy food exacerbate obesity and its health implications?

A white paper recently developed by ProMedica and the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease offers some startling statistics:

● Nearly one in five Lucas County residents — more than 85,000 people — face hunger. That’s one of the highest rates statewide.

● Ohio’s rate of food insecurity is higher than the national average. More than 2 million Ohioans go hungry.

Research shows that even one childhood experience with hunger can have a negative effect on health 10 to 15 years later. Hungry children are more likely to endure poor health and delayed development. Food insecurity is associated with lower scores on physical and mental-health exams.

Among elderly people, malnutrition aggravates diseases and increases disability. It decreases resistance to infection and extends hospital stays, helping to increase health-care costs because of higher complication rates.

The conditions people encounter daily outside of the hospital play a large role in determining their overall health and ability to stay well. The questions we asked about hunger led to action.

ProMedica created Come to the Table, a collaborative advocacy program. We help aid agencies and communities in our 27-county service area to pool resources and share best practices. The goal: a hunger-free region.

We work with social-service and government leaders who are interested in eliminating hunger and providing access to nutritious food. ProMedica hosts food drives among our employees twice a year, and encourages volunteer opportunities with Seagate Foodbank and other local groups.

ProMedica is partnering with Hollywood Casino Toledo to repackage prepared food that never leaves the casino kitchen. Our part-time food packers have reclaimed more than five tons of unserved buffet food, which Seagate Foodbank picks up and delivers to homeless shelters and other communal feeding sites. We are helping other food-service venues to establish similar programs.

ProMedica is a member of the Health Systems Learning Group, a coalition of 40 health-care systems that work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve public health through innovative practices and community partnerships. Its aims are to lower health-care costs, improve access to care, elevate the health status of the communities we serve, and reduce health disparities.

Share Our Strength has recognized ProMedica as one of 13 “No Kid Hungry” allies across the nation. We work closely with the Ohio Association of Food Banks to help educate state lawmakers and other officials about how we can find solutions to end hunger in Ohio.

Addressing hunger as a health issue may seem an unlikely choice for a health-care organization such as ProMedica. But a look at the facts strongly suggests why we must pay attention to hunger in our community.

Randy Oostra is president and chief executive officer of ProMedica.



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