Pilot program helps children experiencing food insecurity in North Carolina

Food security means having reliable access to enough high-quality food to avoid hunger and stay healthy.1 Many individuals and families in the United States struggle to obtain nutritious food on a consistent basis. More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, experience food insecurity in the United States.2 When faced with food insecurity, families often need to make difficult choices about the quality and amounts of food they are able to access.

Food insecurity in North Carolina

North Carolina has the tenth highest rate of food insecurity in the nation.3 Feeding America reports that 1,245,870 people in North Carolina are facing hunger — and of them, 394,300 are children. This is one out of every six children in the state.4

In response to this high level of food insecurity in the state, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina launched Healthy Habits for Kids, a preventive pilot program to help children with food insecurity in Forsyth County and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The pilot program will serve 113 children and their family members who will each receive 14 healthy meals weekly for 12 weeks. Healthy meal options are chosen by enrollees with support from registered dietitians.

Mom’s Meals® was selected as the vendor to provide nutrition services to program participants. Mom’s Meals has been delivering refrigerated, ready-to-heat-and-eat meals to homes nationwide for over 20 years. Crafted by chefs and registered dietitians, meals are tailored to support most major chronic conditions and overall wellness.

The program will also focus on helping children develop long-term habits for better nutrition, such as eating fruits and vegetables each day, drinking more water and reducing soda intake. Participants will be surveyed by a registered dietitian at the beginning of the program and again at the program’s conclusion.

“Children facing hunger are more likely to be hospitalized and also face higher risks of health conditions, like anemia and asthma, impacting their overall health and well-being,” said Catherine Macpherson, MS, RDN, Senior Vice President of Healthcare Strategy and Chief Nutrition Officer for Mom’s Meals. “By providing medically appropriate meals and nutrition counseling through this pilot, we can begin breaking down barriers for food insecure children and their family members and create positive results including improvements in both physical and mental health.”

Food insecurity impacts whole-person health

Without regular access to nutritious food, young children are at risk for negative health, developmental and behavioral outcomes. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, household food insecurity was related to significantly worse general health, some acute and chronic health problems, and worse health care access, including forgone care and heightened emergency department use, for children.5

American’s Health Rankings reports that 33.5% of children ages 10-17 in North Carolina are overweight or obese for their age.6 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links childhood obesity to health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and breathing problems such as asthma.Healthy Habits for Kids will serve as a test to see if addressing food insecurity through meal delivery and education has a positive impact on the whole-person health of pilot participants. Enrollees will receive two or three nutritional counseling sessions with a registered dietician. If other social drivers of health are identified as needing support or intervention — such as access to transportation, housing, education and employment — a care manager will provide additional resources.

Working to improve the health of children in North Carolina

We’re committed to helping people live healthier lives and to creating a more sustainable health care system that works better for everyone. This pilot program will provide valuable insight into evidence-based methods that may have the potential to create sustainable health improvements for children in North Carolina.

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