Hunger and PAD | What You Don't Know
I grew up in a moderately sized city in the Central Valley of California, a region commonly known as the breadbasket of the world because we are one of the largest agricultural producers in the world. In this region, there are festivals for asparagus, beans, and grapes, just to name a few. But as a child I wondered, if we produced so much food, and people needed food to live, why then did I see so many people sitting on the side of the road, dirty and sunburnt, with signs saying “just hungry”?
It turns out 95,000 people (13% of the county’s population) are food insecure, as are 37 million (11%) of Americans. Food insecurity is more than hunger, it’s the inability to access safe and nutritious foods. People who skip meals because they don’t have money to buy food, or a grocery store to shop at nearby, or feel it’s more important for someone else in their family to eat, are considered food insecure. It’s more than those who are homeless that struggle. The old, “starving college student” tale, is more than just a tale, it’s real life. Also, the elderly remain impacted, although that’s drastically improved since the creation of Medicare. But whether young or old, the most impacted are those who are chronically ill. Yes, those who don’t have access to nutritious food become chronically ill, but those who are chronically ill also can’t heal without nutritious food.
My mind was absolutely boggled when I learned of “food insecurity.” I wondered how it could be that in the richest country in the world, in the center of California’s agricultural economy, how so many people were hungry. Digging deeper it became apparent how this is possible. I discovered areas in which some people live that are known as “food deserts.” Food deserts lack grocery stores, and mainly have convenience and liquor stores that don’t carry fresh produce. If they do, it’s often of poor quality or overpriced.
Unfortunately, the effects of food insecurity last longer than the hunger one might endure. Children who are food insecure face increased risk for poor cognitive functioning, which can affect their ability to perform well in school academically, as well as behaviorally. Food insecurity at any point in time can increase a person’s risk for chronic diseases, as I mentioned before. This occurs from consumption of processed foods that are often high in calories, fats, carbohydrates, and sugars, and the absence of important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals which the body needs to function properly. Furthermore, people who are food insecure may struggle with leading an active style, as the more active a person is the more calories (energy) their body craves. Food insecurity is a leading risk factor for becoming overweight, diabetic, and even developing vascular diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD) and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
September is National Peripheral Artery Disease Awareness Month (PAD), as well as National Hunger Action Month, two causes that go hand in hand. PAD is a build-up of plaque in the legs that restricts blood flow to the point where someone can have what’s known as a “heart attack of the legs,” leading to amputation in the most severe cases. PAD patients are told by their physician that they need to enhance their diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. They’re even prescribed 3-6 month rehab programs which drive home the point that lifestyle changes must be made to live a better quality of life. While these programs are shown to be successful in clinical trials, they often have low enrollment and completion rates in real-life for many reasons including lack of convenience (time & travel), lack of insurance or inability to cover the co-pay, and food insecurity.
Food insecurity is probably by far one of the biggest reasons why, of the few who do complete rehab programs, they don’t continue to abide by the parameters set for their diet. It’s either an issue of access to the food simply because they’re living in a food desert or they don’t have the money to purchase healthier options. When patients lack money and resources to shop on a regular basis, they are going to spend their money in a way that stretches their dollar, which often does not lead to buying fresh produce. They are going to buy the food that is most filling and familiar for them to cook because they may lack the skills to cook a wide variety of foods. Additionally, if patients are caretakers of other individuals, they cannot afford the time or money it takes to cook multiple meals for varying types of diet.
As a young adult, I connected many of the dots above and realized my calling in life was to fight in the war on hunger and help people improve their health by working on programs that break down the barriers to nutritious eating. I have worked with friends and family to educate them on eating better to avoid disease, having success with my own mother who I convinced to become a vegetarian, which led to her decreasing her daily medication for hypertension. I’ve also dedicated much of my time to volunteering with and raising funds for food banks. Now, I find myself dedicating my entire career to this cause, joining “The Way To My Heart,” which understands the important connection between food, disease, and barriers to accessing health related resources. That is why we are working so hard to develop programs that will help patients who struggle with food insecurity or live in food deserts. We know that patients face the best chance of improving their health when they have access to nutritious foods because:
- Food IS medicine;
- Knowing where your next meal is coming from and that it’s good for you decreases stress, which is also harmful to the body.
Not only does “The Way To My Heart” work to connect people to nutritious food through industry partnerships that reduce access barriers, but our health team, which includes Internal Medicine and Functional Medicine Practitioner Dr. Adriane Hines, reaches people where they are in life and guides them where they desire to be, which is living a better quality of life. Our team works with patients within their personal budget, showing them how to take “microsteps” to better health with inexpensive yet impactful dietary changes that steadily lead them toward their goal. Additionally, Dr. Hines offers virtual shopping excursions with patients to show them how to shop smart at the store nearest them, truly being resourceful with patients.
Eliminating food insecurity is my mission in life. So, this is just the beginning. If you are aligned with this plight and want to help, please reach out to me at kathryn@TheWayToMyHeart.org. If you are a patient concerned about your health and you struggle with food insecurity, please visit our website to access amazing resources, including our wellness team https://www.thewaytomyheart.org/, or find us on Facebook @VascularDiseaseSupport. At “The Way To My Heart”, we are here to educate, engage, and power patients to take their healthcare into their own hands, because everyone deserves a better quality of life.