Food insecurity ranks high on Americans’ greatest social health risks. In local communities, grocery stores are playing key roles in bolstering neighborhood wellness. Publix and other food chains, collaborating with the Produce for Kids program, are walking the talk on nutrition for local health citizens.
Produce for Kids is associated with Feeding America, which works with local food banks and non-profits to help channel healthy food to children and families. Feeding America is a national network of over 200 food banks fighting hunger in America, serving over 46 million people and 60,000 food pantries, and advocating for legislation that addresses peoples’ hunger. “Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger,” the organization believes.
Publix has worked with the Produce for Kids program for 17 years. This year, the grocery chain is collaborating with a dozen food suppliers to promote the produce section of the market that features fresh and healthy food options; these companies include CMI Orchards (apples, pears and cherries), Coast Tropical (with a full range of produce), Del Monte Foods (canned fruits and vegetables), Driscoll’s (berries), Fresh Express (salads), Lakeside Produce (tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, Marie’s (salad dressings), Mastronardi Produce (greenhouses), Mission Produce (avocados), RealSweet (onions), Wonderful (citrus) and Acosta (a sales and marketing services organization).
Doubling down on this investment in nutrition as a social determinant of health, Publix stores also baked in a literacy riff that speaks to the education SDoH. The Produce for Kids program brought in the children’s author Eric Carle’s iconic character, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, to promote both food and education/literacy. The project even shared a kid-friendly recipe for constructing a hungry (and tasty-healthy) caterpillar in live store cooking sessions and also featured on the Produce for Kids website here.
For more insights and examples on food-as-medicine and its role as a social determinant of health, I detail the opportunity for the grocery store as a health destination in my book, Health Consuming: From Health Consumer to Health Citizen.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: The USDA Report on Household Food Security in the U.S. in 2017, published in September 2018, found that 12% of U.S. households were food insecure — with difficult some time during the year providing enough food for their family members due to a lack of resources. The prevalence of food insecurity for children in 2017 was equal to that of the 2007 pre-recession level of 8.3%.
There are higher risks of being food-insecure if you have an income near or below the Federal poverty level. are in a household with children headed by a single parent (male or female), people living alone, and Black and Hispanic-headed households. Food insecurity also varies by state, from a low of 7.4% in Hawaii versus a high of 17.9% in New Mexico.
Lack of access to healthy food is a social determinant of health across many dimensions, physical, cognitive/behavioral and financial:
- Food insecure households spend 45% more on medical care than people in food-secure households
- For older adults, food insecurity exacerbates chronic conditions and the cost of treating them, especially hypertension, arthritis and diabetes
- A SNAP participant incurs $1,400 less for health care spending than a low-income non-participant.
Addressing social determinants of health is a team sport, a collaborative effort in local communities bolstered with health baked into public policy at the national, state and local levels. Social determinant risks are inter-dependent, largely rooted in socioeconomic status – at the center, income inequality.
That isn’t to say that more affluent people don’t have SDoH risks — they do. But the nature of these can be different. Food security is less a risk factor among wealthier households; however, loneliness and social isolation can be a significant challenge particularly among higher-income, aging people.
Businesses, like grocery stores, can and should play their part to bolster social determinants that relate or are adjacent to their businesses. In addition to doing good in a local community and for employees’ families, these efforts can also build on the loyalty and “love factor” for the companies that commit to efforts that support health inside and outside their organizations. The latest 2019 BrandZ survey conducted by Kantar and WPP found that among the top 100 most valuable U.S. brands, “love sustains success.” According to the study, “love in a brand context is the emotional affinity a consumer has for a brand, and it can’t be bought or manufactured. However, brands can create the conditions in which love can flourish, if they invest in innovation, promote a higher purpose, and deliver a consistently great experience.” Love isn’t a nice-to-have factor, Kantar advises: some of the most loved brands are the most resilient over time. And love sustains success, the bubble chart shows, over the study of twelve years of brand value growth.
Publix Produce for Kids campaign has the love-flavor to which Kantar and WPP refer. The food-brands involved in the program, along with Publix and the other grocery chains that participate in the program, are sharing and growing the love — and healthy families and communities along the journey.