From the website: Iredell Free News
May 26, 2024

Special to Iredell Free News

The theme for the 27th annual Allergy & Asthma Day on Capitol Hill (AADCH) was “Breaking Barriers: Advancing Health Equity for All.” The AADCH event, hosted by Allergy & Asthma Network, was held on May 8 in Washington, D.C.

Wendy Gordon Pake, founder and executive director of FOODiversity, presented “Hot Seat Topic: Food Allergies and Food Insecurity” at the Social Influencers Summit. This event convened one day prior to AADCH and provided key information that fueled the important advocacy completed on Capitol Hill the next day.

FOODiversity, a Mooresville-based nonprofit, is on a mission to reduce the burden on households who are food-insecure and struggling to obtain nutritious and safe foods from grocery stores and food pantries, due their added challenges of food allergies, celiac disease, or food intolerances.

Pake shared FOODiversity’s work during the Summit to an audience of physicians, patients with lived allergic disease experiences, podcast hosts, nonprofits, and industry partners, and explained that disparities related to food allergy prevention and disease management exist in every single community.

“It’s up to all of us to shine a light on this issue and make it a priority,” Pake said, urging everyone in the room to “activate” their audiences.

“It will take all of us working together to begin to break down the barriers,” she added.

Highlighting food access barriers for those struggling with the dual challenges of food insecurity and food allergy, Pake reported that FOODiversity customers’ top two obstacles to obtaining safe food are the high costs and limited availability of allergen-friendly food. The additional time commitment of caring for someone who has food allergies, reading labels during shopping and preparing special meals, can add up to 15 extra hours of caregiver work each week.

The stressful task of educating others, including daycares, schools and other parents, falls solely on the caregivers’ shoulders, and often leads to tension in family and other relationships. The significant out-of-pocket medical expense for safe food and other allergy-related care intensifies the emotional distress. For many households, the primary point of medical care is the emergency room (ER); receiving acute care without building health literacy increases the risk for future allergic reactions.

Pake emphasized how people who seek assistance from a community’s charitable food system (e.g. food pantries, soup kitchens, faith-based organizations) must advocate for their needs to possibly obtain the foods they require, despite the hovering stigmas that surround food insecurity and food allergies. Devastatingly, allergen-friendly products are often unavailable at these sites, even after the person musters the courage to speak up about their medical requirements.

FOODiversity’s programs are tailored to support community organizations that address food insecurity. With budget constraints and potential food waste in mind, food pantries take care to select and stock the most-needed items. Pantries must minimize costly specialty items that are close to expiration, and they must add procedures and staff training to be able to direct specific products to those who have dietary restrictions.

FOODiversity’s Food Is Medicine model helps food pantries overcome some of the challenges through its direct-to-household medically tailored groceries approach, known as the Food Delivery Program. Eighty percent of customers report feeling more empowered to manage their households’ dietary needs after enrolling in the program, receiving credits to shop at Attane Health’s online marketplace, and building skills related to label reading and nutrition. Food pantries, healthcare providers, and school nurses are the most frequent referrers into the Food Delivery Program which has served patients in 10 states.

On the following day, AADCH advocates, including Pake, met with members of Congress and their staff at 130-plus U.S. House and Senate offices, urging members of Congress to sponsor or co-sponsor five key pieces of proposed new legislation aligned with Allergy & Asthma Network’s Policy Priorities:

  1. Improve access to safe, affordable medical care and innovative treatments;
  2. Maintain asthma and allergy funding for programs supported by federal agencies;
  3. Reduce health risks for asthma and severe allergy emergencies;
  4. Reduce environmental health hazards to support lung health; and
  5. Improve health equity.

“Our policy priorities are focused on expanding access to medical care and treatments and making sure the environments they live and work in are safe for everyone,” stated Lynda Mitchell, CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network. “It’s especially important for people living in under-resourced communities. They continue to face more barriers to care that impact their ability to get the healthcare they need and deserve.”

The Congressional Lunch Briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building featured members of the Congressional Asthma & Allergy Caucus; presentations from leading allergists, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and patient testimonials.

Key messages from the Briefing included remarks from Jonathan Edwards, director, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, EPA, and Dr. Travis Miller, chairman of Advocacy, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

Edwards addressed environment determinants of health, defined as modifiable environmental risks, such as presence of household air pollution, pests, mold, moisture, biological contaminants, chemicals, and irritants.

“These factors influence risk and experience of chronic disease,” Edwards said. “We consistently see more and worse respiratory and cardiovascular disease in low-income neighborhoods and substandard housing.”

Miller highlighted ACAAI’s activities to improve health equity. “We will always advocate for our patients to have access to specialist care and appropriate treatments,” Miller said.

He reviewed ACAAI’s Advocacy Priorities, echoing those of Allergy & Asthma Network and adding ACAAI’s support of legislation that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regularly update emergency medical kits and include user-friendly epinephrine delivery products for anaphylaxis.

About FOODiversity

Founded in 2020, FOODiversity is headquartered in Mooresville and serves clients across the U.S. The 501(c) (3) nonprofit was established to lessen the burden of food insecurity for individuals and families with food allergy, celiac disease, or food intolerances, FOODiversity is currently led by Wendy Gordon Pake. The FOODiversity mission is to prevent hunger, medical emergencies, and hospitalizations by raising awareness, providing educational support, and increasing access.