Opening a Dialog About Food Insecurity

Anne Hoisington

There’s a paradox in Oregon’s hunger picture: Families who are short on food may end up overweight. That’s because dollars stretch farther on “high-energy” foods (noodles, bread and other carbs) than on “high-nutrient” foods (fresh fruit, fish, poultry and other vitamin- and protein-rich items).

Trouble is, when people struggle with “food insecurity” (spotty access to regular meals), their needs can fly under the radar when they visit a clinic or a doctor’s office. Shame often keeps them silent about their predicament. As for physicians and nurses, they may be hesitant to broach such a sensitive subject.

That’s why OSU Extension faculty member Anne Hoisington recently led the design of a survey that was taken by 200 doctors and nurses as part of the Childhood Hunger Coalition. “It was an eye-opener,” says Hoisington, a nutrition education specialist based in Portland. “Many pediatric practitioners are not sure about how to ask questions, discuss the issue and then intervene.”

Those survey findings have led to an online, self-paced course for medical professionals. Developed in partnership with OSU’s Ecampus, Oregon Health & Science University and others, the free course — accredited for continuing medical education (CME) — guides practitioners toward a better understanding of household food status and provides them with practical scenarios and screening tools to open up a dialog with patients.

Course content focuses on how to identify food security; how food insecurity is connected to health and development; prevalent issues; and intervention strategies. The course, Childhood Food Insecurity, is available in the catalog at