REPORT: Food Security Directly Impacts Personal Health

Project Bread

Reports

Project Bread is integrating food insecurity into health care.


A young man is cutting vegetables in his kitchen

John A. has a passion for cooking that started in high school.

However, when the 52 year old lost his job as a prep cook, his own diet began to deteriorate. He faced a number of obstacles to gain steady employment, including physical and mental health challenges, making it hard to afford enough to eat. He often had to purchase cheaper, processed foods with less nutritional value.

For many people, John’s challenge is all too familiar. Food insecurity is a layered issue, and barriers to healthy food access stem beyond just the ability to purchase food. Not having reliable transportation to a grocery store, lack of necessary equipment to prepare meals--like pots, pans, and even refrigerators--and uncertainty around how to cook nutritious meals for specific health conditions all contribute to food insecurity.

That’s where Project Bread comes in.

A HEALTH CARE PARTNERSHIPS IMPACT REPORT

Food Security Is Health Care

Read the full report, released June 2022, evaluating the impact of Project Bread's innovative program to address food insecurity through the health care system, part of MassHealth's Flexible Services Program pilot

Preliminary findings demonstrate an increase in food security for patients, and point to health cost savings!

Food Security is Health Care Report

Our Health Care Partnerships

The Health Care Partnerships (HCP) team runs a revolutionary pilot utilizing Medicaid dollars for “non-medical” expenses to address food security as a social determinant of health. It is a referral based program conducted through MassHealth’s Flexible Services Program. Accountable Care Organization partners, including Community Care Cooperative, Boston Children's Hospital ACO and Boston Medical Center Health Net, send patient referrals to Project Bread. To reduce hunger and improve patient health, HCP works with patients referred to us due to food insecurity and medically complex health issues. Over six to nine months, we help increase their long-term food security by providing access to food through a variety of goods and services such as:

  • grocery store gift cards

  • transportation assistance

  • procurement of kitchen supplies and appliances

  • cooking classes

  • nutrition counseling

  • assistance connecting with federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC

  • referrals to nearby food pantries

 

We aim to address social, environmental and economic factors that influence their ability to purchase, prepare and consume healthy foods.

In John’s case, Project Bread’s support through the Flexible Services Program provided him with $100/month in gift cards for more nutritious foods, basic kitchen supplies necessary for cooking healthy meals, such as pots and pans, mixing bowls, and a hot plate. He also benefited from educational cooking classes, all together helping him take back control of his eating habits.

Patients like John are not unique, and the program is a critical resource to many. Now, it’s time to make policy solutions that will continue to help reduce these barriers.

“Not only has this program helped me financially in terms of paying for groceries, but the cooking shows [hosted by Project Bread chefs and nutritionists] have reignited my passion for cooking. Now, food is medicine to me.”  - John

People sitting around table for health care discussion, Congressman McGovern at the head

Taking Action

Congressman Jim McGovern visited the Family Health Center in Worcester (FHCW), alongside Project Bread CEO Erin McAleer, C3 President & CEO Christina Severin, C3 Senior Director of Social Health Kim Prendergrast, and USDA Northeast Regional Administrator Lizbeth Silbermann. FHCW President & CEO Louis Brady underscored the value of the Flexible Services Program on how the early impact of the program has been instrumental in their ongoing work to solve food insecurity, and patients shared their experiences on how the services provided by Project Bread improved their health and their access to food during tumultuous times. Congressman McGovern reflected on how allowing for the maximum flexibility and choice for people experiencing food insecurity is essential to making sure people can prepare their own healthy and culturally relevant meals.


“Massachusetts has long been a leader working to address food insecurity,” shares Congressman McGovern. “I’ve seen innovative solutions across the country, and I am proud to see the work happening in my home state through health care center partnerships with Project Bread and Community Care Cooperative. These are the solutions we need to uplift, and this is the reason why this September’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health will be a critical step in advancing national efforts to end food insecurity.”

About the Flexible Services Program

Since launching the program in April 2020, Project Bread has:

  • Served over 5,000 clients providing our wide range of services

  • Increased participation in our cooking classes to over 50 people per month, with live translation during the classes

  • Expanded the team from 2 Nutrition Services Coordinators in 2020 to 11 Nutrition Services Coordinators able to service more clients across languages.

    • Five coordinators speak Spanish, 1 speaks Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole, 1 speaks Haitian Creole, 1 speaks Arabic, and 1 speaks Vietnamese.

Older woman hugging little girl
Happy senior woman hugging her beautiful grandchild - in kitchen at home

Project Bread’s feedback analysis has found impressive early data from clients demonstrating that 25% of clients became food secure over six months of program participation, fruit and vegetable consumption increased by 3.5 servings per week, SNAP benefits utilization increased by 12.4%, and 99% of all clients report that participation in the program has improved their health. For our full impact report on preliminary findings, click here.

“We see the tangible impact this program has on people’s lives. Often, the day-to-day difficulties of accessing healthy food are lost in the broader conversation about food as medicine. Supporting client’s health and increasing food access is not one-size-fits-all, and this program allows us to meet clients where they are and provide solutions that work for them.” -Jennifer Obadia, Senior Director of Health Care Partnerships at Project Bread.

January - May 2022 Impact

$1,188,700 in grocery store gift cards + $411,663.84 in kitchen supplies and appliances distributed to participating clients


This past spring, the Biden administration announced that it will host a White House conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health, an initiative championed by Congressman McGovern. Project Bread supports this effort as we know that solving hunger requires policy change and both federal and state action. Together, we will work to meet people where they are and provide solutions that will sustain our community for the long-term.

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