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Another Voice: Health care reform must also address hunger

By William Lambers

What has been tragically lost in the debate about health care is the connection to the hunger crisis in our country. According to Feeding America there are 42.2 million people living in food-insecure households, including more than 13 million children.

As families struggle to put food on the table, they are also vulnerable to health issues from the lack of nutrition. Bread for the World estimates $160 billion a year in health-related costs because of hunger in America. Its report states, “people who can’t always afford nutritious food have disproportionately higher rates of chronic diseases and poor health.”

So as Congress debates a new health care law, members should also be considering the costs of hunger, which have such a huge impact.
Lack of nutrition causes doctor visits and hospitalization, and much of this could be avoided. By feeding the hungry and improving nutrition we could reduce the cost of the health care system substantially.

The solution is right in front of us. We should fully fund our hunger relief programs, including food stamps (SNAP), school lunches, summer feeding and after school/weekend programs for children. If we improved our coverage of child feeding programs, we could enhance the health of our youngest citizens for life.

The passage of a national summer feeding act, which would allow millions of hungry children to get nutritious meals when school is out, can improve our health care system.

Our emergency food banks must be fully supported to ensure no one goes hungry in America. These are the agencies on the front lines of fighting hunger.

As Diana Aviv of Feeding America says, their “network of 200 food banks and the 60,000 food pantries and meal programs they serve across the country are committed to not only addressing hunger but also improving the health and well-being of the 46 million people we serve.”

But current budget proposals by the president and Congress threaten to cut the food stamp program, which will place a huge burden on these food banks. If those cuts go through it will increase hunger in America and poor health.

So any effort at reforming health care must address hunger or it will inevitably fail.

Let’s give impoverished families the full support they need to get through difficult times. By feeding the hungry we can improve our country, create opportunities for people to thrive and reduce the strain and costs on health care.

If we take a comprehensive approach to ending hunger we can ensure all citizens have enough nutrition to work, learn and get out of poverty. By improving the health of our citizens through food, we can also substantially improve the health care system in this country.

William Lambers is the author of “Ending World Hunger” and is a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.

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