By Baraka Floyd, MD, pediatrics physician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford School of Medicine and Lindsay Stevens, MD, pediatrics physician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and Clinical Professor at Stanford School of Medicine
The emerging focus on social factors that influence health outcomes has necessarily transformed the approach clinicians take in patient care. These factors, otherwise known as “social determinants of health (SDOH),” include food insecurity, housing and utility instability, transportation access, and personal safety, among others. These have a tremendous impact on long-term health outcomes and quality of life.
When problems arise in these areas, patients and families struggle to focus on medical needs. As a clinician, identifying and keeping track of these social determinants of health help create the opportunity for patient-focused solutions. This could be the difference between a food insecure family gaining access to resources and that same family not being aided appropriately.
Food insecurity as an example of a social determinant of health
More common among families with children, food insecurity impacts more than 34 million people, including nine million children in the United States. It is a lack of consistent access to food for every person in a household to live a healthy life. Influenced by several factors that includes income, employment, race, ethnicity, and disability status, food insecurity has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic left many households with limited food access and financial opportunities, numerous families were forced to rely on food assistance programs for the first time. As even more families faced a lack of access to sufficient food and nutrition, health care providers had to ensure that they addressed food insecurity as a key determinant that impacts their patients’ long-term health.