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Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus Addresses Combating Hunger in the U.S.

The goal of the bipartisan Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus (The “SDOH Caucus”), launched by U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Tom Cole (R-OK), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), is to bring together members of Congress from disparate jurisdictions to highlight opportunities for coordination in health, public health, food, housing, transportation, and other important drivers of health.  

As we know, these economic and social conditions, often referred to as social determinants of health, have a powerful impact on our health and wellness. On Tuesday, July 13, 2022, the SDOH Caucus held a briefing focused on one of these determinants - hunger.    

Of all the social determinants of health, hunger, nutrition, and access to healthy foods, may be the issues that impact an individual's overall health the most.  As Representative Bustos stated during recorded remarks for the briefing “the lack of access to healthy food, the building block of our health, leaves a very big mark” on an individual's life. Representative Cole emphasized that point by saying “malnutrition can have a cascading effect on a person’s health.”

According to the USDA, more than 38 million people, including 12 million children, in the United States are food insecure. The pandemic has only increased food insecurity among many American families.

Government Intervention

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), who also presented during the July 13th briefing, said “We have a real opportunity to come up with a holistic plan to end hunger and nutrition insecurity in this country … We have the resources. We have the food. But we lack the political will. I really believe that hunger is a political condition.” 

How much of an impact the SDOH Caucus can have in addressing food insecurity around the country remains to be seen.  But in the meantime there are upcoming opportunities for the federal government to listen, learn and (hopefully) act on this issue.  

Coming up this Fall, the White House is holding the 2022 Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. This will be an opportunity to bring various stakeholders from across every level of government, the healthcare system and those with lived experience of hunger together to develop a roadmap to end hunger and improve nutrition. The only other White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health was held in 1969. That decisive event shaped the country’s food policy agenda for the next 50 years, including the creation of the WIC program.   

There are also two acts related to SDOH on the docket for Congress:

Private Sector Efforts

The panelists for the SDOH Caucus briefing on hunger included Chris Bernard, the Executive Director of Hunger Free Oklahoma, Dr. Crystal Clark , the Chief Medical Officer of UPMC Community HealthChoices, Karlen Sandall, the Digital Health Worker Manager of OSF Healthcare and Will Sellers, the Executive Director of Wholesome Wave Georgia.  

These panelists are each doing incredible work in their communities to combat hunger.  They all agree that the U.S. needs a permanent nationwide program in place to end hunger that is available and accessible to everyone in all communities.  Other ideas shared during the briefing included removing the stigma surrounding hunger, requiring a food insecurity assessment for every patient seen in our healthcare system and ensuring Community Health Workers are in place at all healthcare centers to help patients navigate services.

Path Assist Can Help

Path Assist by Activate Care is already doing this work today in communities across the country.

The Path Assist goal is simple: improve poor outcomes and reduce high cost due to SDOH. Path Assist can positively impact the health of communities with an effective, efficient, and measurable model which is locally responsive and nationally scalable.

Path Assist is an augmentation, not a replacement for existing care management programs - the Path Assist team aides in delivering care to more of the individuals and families that other teams can't reach. Path Assist can take existing efforts from doing good work to doing great work for the community.

To learn more, visit