Food Insecurity in PA

By  |  January 17, 2020 | 

I recently read a story in WaPo recounting a farming family in NY, north of PA, who have hit hard times (they have five children). The trade war, among other factors, has chilled the price of cheese and milk and for many small to midsize dairies, the cost of doing business exceeds what’s coming in. It is grim and most of these farms are going to vaporize.

What particularly hit me about the piece was how fastidious every member of the household profiled is about watching what they consume. If put to the test, I figured I could assemble a super tight shopping list and hit whatever allowance I contrived for myself if put to the test. After reading the piece, for one, I realized I had no clue. Second, I do not think I could do it. No one reading this, I think, has any idea how to budget to the final grain of rice, the last slice of bread, and live in a world where a single grape and a PBJ sandwich is a luxury.

About a year and a half ago, I mused on what constitutes a monthly menu when being on SNAP (“food stamps”) is the bedrock of your fridge and pantry. It is no party, and if you think $140 a month ($1.50/meal) is a walk in the park, you have another thing coming.

I did some searching as I was curious as to what food insecurity looked like in our neck of the woods. The site I found nailed it and the data (and PA profile) below expands on the above theme and drives home how prevalent the problem is. Keep in mind, food insecurity does not equate to poverty but implies a lack of continuous access to adequate, nutritious calories. There is not enough gas in the tank, so to speak, to sustain a healthy table day in day out over the long haul.

Risk for food insecurity can be screened for by using two widely accepted screening questions that are part of a USDA 18-item household food security screening module: 1) Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more; 2) Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to get more. A response of sometimes true or often true to either statement is considered to be evidence for risk of food insecurity.

I snapped a pic of Montour County below–the link takes you to a terrific interactive map–and you can see for yourselves how your county (or state) region measure up in regard to the numbers of folks struggling, and more to the point, who qualifies for aid. Many do not, incidentally (they make “too much”). Moreover, many of these families are visiting food banks in increasing numbers as they are their sole caloric lifelines and fill the void they cannot manage with the wages they get paid. Also, think of Geisinger’s Fresh Food Farmacy–a variant and more prescriptive version of a conventional food bank program.

Click the links above for more info (It will also make you a more rounded doctor, IMHO).

Food Insecurity in Pennsylvania

Roughly 40 million Americans live in households with food insecurity. According to 2017 data from the Department of Agriculture Economic Research Division (USDA-ERD), food insecurity is present in 11.8 percent (15 million) of US households and in 15.7 percent of US households with children. The USDA defines a food-insecure household as one in which “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money or other resources.” Adults and children who experience food insecurity may be at an increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes and health disparities, including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension

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About the Author: Bradley Flansbaum

Bradley Flansbaum
Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, MHM works for Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA in both the divisions of hospital medicine and population health. He began working as a hospitalist in 1996, at the inception of the hospital medicine movement. He is a founding member of the Society of Hospital Medicine and served as a board member and officer. He speaks nationally in promoting hospital medicine and has presented at many statewide meetings and conferences. He is also actively involved in house staff education. Currently, he serves on the SHM Public Policy Committee and has an interest in payment policy, healthcare market competition, health disparities, cost-effectiveness analysis, and pain and palliative care. He is SHM’s delegate for the AMA House of Delegates. Dr. Flansbaum received his undergraduate degree from Union College in Schenectady, NY and attended medical school at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his residency and chief residency in Internal Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York. He received his M.P.H. in Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is a political junky, and loves to cook, stay fit, read non-fiction, listen to many genres of music, and is a resident of Danville, PA.


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