The Impact of COVID on the Social Determinants of Health

Original story posted on: September 23, 2020

Food insecurity is on the rise.

Amid the perils of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic are now growing concerns about food shortages around the country. Since COVID began, the U.S. Census has been tracking the impact of the associated economic crisis on the public. The numbers are important for healthcare organizations to keep an eye on, especially as they consider which social determinants of health (SDoH) initiatives mandate priority.

States around the country are struggling:

Food security is generally divided into two categories:

  • Low food security: Quality, variety, or desired foods are reduced by necessity. However, low food security is linked to little or no paring back in food intake.
  • Very low food security: Multiple indicators of disrupted eating patterns, for example, having no food in the fridge, and reduced food intake from not having access to food.

Many states and regions are considered “food deserts,” but the increase in the numbers of these areas is evoking major concern:

  • Washington, D.C. had close to 25 percent of all families reporting or expecting to lose employment income in September, with 28 percent of families reporting trouble paying for regular household expenses, including food.
    • Prior to the start of pandemic, roughly 400,000 people around the tri-state areas of Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia were food insecure. However, this number has now increased by 200,000 in recent months.
    • Even the most affluent counties have seen close to a 20-percent increase in the amount of food donated; it often disappears within hours.
    • Shelters and pantries are on overload.
  • Prior Monitor Mondays broadcasts reported how families in Houston and around Texas are struggling with the SDoH, with food insecurity putting families at even greater health risks.
    • Twenty-five percent of families are food-insecure households, with this number expected to rise by another 5 percent in the next month.
  • In Chicago, almost 15 percent of residents are food insecure, with 20 percent of these households including children.
  • Washington State is also on alert: Food insecurity has increased dramatically in that region, with hunger a priority:
    • Up to 51 percent of Black families and 33.4 percent of Latinx families
    • White families seeing rates at 17-20 percent
  • Adult obesity is also up to record levels across the country, the average over 40 percent, related to limited access to fresh produce and vegetables in many regions, plus decreased activity levels courtesy of public health precautions and shelter-in-place requirements.

Our Monitor Mondays Listeners Survey this week asked, does your organization have a program in place to address food insecurity? With this particular SDoH issue such a hot button, the response was interesting, and it will be well worth watching industry actions for the future.

Programming Note: Ellen Fink-Samnick is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to her live reporting every Monday at 10 a.m. EST.

Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP

Ellen Fink-Samnick is an award-winning healthcare industry expert. She is the esteemed author of books, articles, white papers, and knowledge products. A subject matter expert on the Social Determinants of Health, her latest books, The Essential Guide to Interprofessional Ethics for Healthcare Case Management and Social Determinants of Health: Case Management’s Next Frontier (with foreword by Dr. Ronald Hirsch), are published through HCPro. She is a panelist on Monitor Mondays, frequent contributor to Talk Ten Tuesdays, and member of the RACmonitor Editorial Board.

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