Second Harvest Heartland is one of the largest food banks in the United States, distributing enough food to provide 74 million meals annually. The organization works to end hunger through food shelves, pantries, and other partner programs throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Second Harvest Heartland is also a member of Feeding America, a network of food banks serving every state in the U.S.
In a 2010 study done by the Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota, researchers reported that US$1.6 billion dollars are spent annually on preventable health and education costs because of hunger in Minnesota. Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refers to the lack of “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Within the 59 Minnesota counties that Second Harvest Heartland serves, 10.4 percent of people are food insecure, according to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap.” Food insecurity and chronic disease are highly correlated, and especially in areas of poverty, health problems are often exacerbated by poor nutrition.
With improved food access and nutrition, Minnesota could decrease spending on preventable health conditions, therefore putting money into other economic resources. Most of the United States’ healthcare and food security systems operate in separate silos. To problem solve chronic disease and food insecurity simultaneously, these silos must be broken down and integrated with one another.
Recognizing this, Boston Consulting Group analyzed how to integrate the healthcare and hunger relief systems in Minnesota. The research showed that food insecurity could be significantly reduced if the medical and hunger relief sectors worked together. With this knowledge, Boston Consulting Group is helping Second Harvest Heartland and Hennepin County Medical Center combine efforts to address health and hunger issues in Minnesota. The partnership focuses on linking food insecure patients at Hennepin County Medical Center with food resources from Second Harvest Heartland. The Food Shelf at HCMC is just one of the programs started to help health and hunger in Minnesota.
One of Second Harvest Heartland’s food shelf clients commented on the cyclical nature of food insecurity: “If we’re eating processed foods high in sugars and starches because it’s what we can afford, we don’t feel so great—it affects our health and causes us to spend more money on medical expenses. It’s a cycle.” The hope is that the Food Shelf at HCMC program, which provides nutritious food to clients, will help patients be better equipped to access nutritious food and offer the opportunity to take a preventative approach to medical problems.