Nursing faculty contribute to report on how to screen for food insecurity in patients

Media Credit: Courtesy Photo from GW Nursing

The report aims to provide best practices on how to discuss food insecurity and related issues with patients in a sensitive manner.

Two School of Nursing researchers contributed to an article published this month outlining strategies for caring for patients who experience food insecurity and obesity.

Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, an associate professor of nursing, and Min Jeong Jeon, a graduate teaching assistant, contributed to the article alongside nursing scientists at Emory University. The article recommends that health care providers screen all patients for food insecurity at primary care visits to prevent certain families from feeling “ashamed” or “singled out” and to ensure that providers do not miss food insecure patients due to internal biases.

Darcy-Mahoney – also the director of the Infant Research, Autism, and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute – said the article outlines how to refer food insecure patients to resources like federal nutrition programs and local food banks with “sensitivity.”

“Efforts to improve health in the United States have traditionally looked to the health care system as the key driver of health outcomes,” Darcy-Mahoney said in an email. “While increasing access to health care and transforming the delivery system are important, research demonstrates that improving population health and achieving health equity requires broader approaches that address social, economic and environmental factors influencing health.”

The article recommends that providers administer a Hunger Vital Sign – a two-question test that determines whether a family is food-insecure – for all patients. Providers should use “motivational interviewing,” a technique that uses open-ended questioning and shared decision-making to address food insecurity and obesity-related health conditions for patients with the condition, the article states.

Darcy-Mahoney said the journal Advances in Family Practice Nursing published the article because the editorial board wanted to provide clinicians with comprehensive information regarding both pediatric health and health care equity.

She said poverty is a significant determinant of child health and 45 percent of all U.S. children living in low-income households. Food insecurity has an especially profound effect on birth weight, infant mortality, language development, chronic illness, environmental exposure, nutrition and injury, Darcy-Mahoney said.

“Nurse practitioners and nurses seeing patients in a multitude of health care settings are uniquely situated to identify and address the complex social problem of food insecurity, especially when working with patients experiencing childhood obesity,” Darcy-Mahoney said. “It is imperative that nurse practitioners increase their knowledge and skills for more effectively addressing the factors contributing to both of these interrelated conditions.”

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