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UW Health & Dean Health Plan partner with Second Harvest Foodbank to fight nutrition insecurity

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 9:05 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2021 at 7:42 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Two health systems in one medical hub are coming together this holiday season for a mutual cause: fighting hunger.

SSM’s Dean Health Plan and UW Health are supporting Second Harvest Foodbank through the NBC15 Share Your Holidays campaign to ensure better health for their patients and families coping with food and nutrition insecurity.

When you think of a food pantry, nonperishable goods are probably what first come to mind, but Second Harvest leaders know a good meal can’t always be confined to a can.

“More than 60% of the food that we distributed last year was fresh produce, protein, dairy. That’s often the most nutritious categories of food for folks,” said Michelle Orge, President & CEO of SHFB of Southern Wisconsin.

A diet without these nutritious and healthy options can have a direct impact on health. One-third of the people Second Harvest serves have diabetes and more than half have high blood pressure.

Other chronic diseases linked to nutrition insecurity include high cholesterol and obesity, according to Dr. Cassie Vanderwall, a clinical nutritionist with UW Health and the manager of ambulatory nutrition & health education programming.

“Nutrition is a very individualized science. So yes, MyPlate works really well to talk about principles of meal composition and getting all your vitamins and minerals, but in the presence of nutrition insecurity, we know that physical hunger can take a toll on one’s environment inside their body,” said Dr. Vanderwall.

Vanderwall’s team screens patients for food and nutrition insecurity. “We ask something called the hunger vital sign, which gets at one’s ability to have food and really the privilege to have food and the money to purchase food. So, we know right at the beginning of the conversation, again, what are they going home to?”

Identifying these health impacts and finding long-term solutions is where UW Health’s relationship with Second Harvest comes into play. UW stocks its emergency foodbank and hosts pop-up pantries through Second Harvest’s resources.

“It’s a comfortable, safe environment. Families roll on up inside their car, pop their trunk, they get a box of food and they go on their way. There are no questions asked,” explained Vanderwall.

She further explained that in Dane County, even many people on food stamps are unable to afford daily meals, because of higher food costs.

“We know that in environments such as Dane County, food costs more, about $3.40 per meal verses the greater Wisconsin area where meals may only be $2.90,” said Vanderwall.

This is why Second Harvest provides nutritious and fresh food to families at no cost. Addressing the social determinants that cause food and nutrition insecurity is a vital part of keeping patients healthy for both UW Health and SSM’s Dean Health Plan.

“We as a health plan, much like UW Health our partner here in the community, we have really thought of Second Harvest as a really vital key to connecting our communities to food and to address food security,” said Dr. Kevin Eichhorn, the Chief Medical Officer of Dean Health Plan.

Eichhorn continued to explain that, as an insurance provider, Dean Health Plan’s relationship with Second Harvest helps its patients to “address social determinants such as food security, make sure that they have access to healthy food to better manage their chronic conditions, help with any behavioral health issues that they have and ultimately support school and job performance, help people be better community members.”

This collective mission of combating illness by combating hunger is why Dean Health Plan and UW Health contribute year after year to the NBC15 Share Your Holidays campaign, which provides 25% of Second Harvest’s funding and food for the year.

“Without this campaign we wouldn’t be able to do that. We just simply couldn’t provide those very important items that all of us want to provide to our families,” said Orge.

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