October 14, 2021

Food Insecurity: A Hidden Problem in the Workplace—and What Employers Can Do About It

Foodsmart is one of Castlight’s Ecosystem partners.

Food insecurity—the lack of consistent access to affordable and nutritious food—is a common and complex problem, and the pandemic is making it worse. In fact, studies show that a projected 42 million Americans may face food insecurity in 2021.​​

The signs of food insecurity aren’t always immediately obvious. Therefore, knowing who in the workplace may be experiencing it is not an easy task. But since so many people rely on employer-sponsored health benefits, employers have a unique opportunity to address this issue in their organization by offering benefits programs and resources that make healthy eating easy, affordable, and accessible for all.

How Social and Economic Factors Contribute to Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is greatly influenced by an individual’s economic and social conditions, such as where they live and work, their race and ethnicity, and their income level.

One of the main causes of food insecurity is poverty—when people have limited funds, they need to stretch their income across several different needs, and they often struggle to afford food at all, let alone many healthier options. Another contributing factor is where an individual resides. Some communities are considered food deserts, which are “geographic areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods,” and/or food swamps—areas with a lot of fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

Due to different social disparities, the prevalence of food insecurity is not equal across racial and ethnic populations. For example, compared to white neighborhoods, Black communities have almost twice as many fast-food restaurants. And according to the USDA, the average rate of food insecurity in the U.S. is 10.5%. However, in Black populations it is 22.5% and in Hispanic populations it is 18.5%. 

Ultimately, individuals with food insecurity are more likely to experience worse health outcomes. They have a higher risk for conditions such as diabetes, stroke, depression, obesity, heart disease, and premature mortality.

How Employers Can Help Combat Food Insecurity

Employers are in a prime position to decrease food insecurity among their employees (and employees’ families) by offering benefits that address each of the following scenarios in which food and nutrition discrepancies exist: 

  • Availability : Leverage data and various tools to identify employees who may be experiencing food insecurity, then provide them with access to diverse foods through targeted food subsidies and food delivery programs.
  • Access : Offer benefits employees can engage with via phone, an app, or a computer at different times of day. For those who are eligible, equip them with the necessary resources to enroll in SNAP or other assistance programs that will further improve their access to healthy foods.
  • Stability : Provide benefits that make it easier to plan meals based on budget or ingredients already on hand to help ensure consistent and stable nutrition for all employees.
  • Skills : Offer benefits programs that connect employees with nutrition experts to help them cut through the confusion and learn what type of support is right for them and their families. This personalized guidance can help them feel empowered and develop the skills needed for long-term healthy eating habits.

Creating Food Security with Foodsmart

Creating and increasing food security in the workplace may feel like an overwhelming task, but there are a variety of resources available to help you better support your employees.

Foodsmart is a comprehensive foodcare solution that helps employers identify and combat food insecurity in the workplace. Founded on the principle that every person deserves to eat well and be healthy, they’re the world’s largest telenutrition and foodcare network backed by a national network of registered dietitians. Their program is designed to yield consistently healthier food choices, lasting behavior change, and long-term results. So far, Foodsmart has helped 25% of their members move from food insecurity to security.

Leveraging a navigation system like Castlight, which promotes the right programs to the right people at the right time, helps make initiating and maintaining engagement much easier for employees, ultimately leading to increased engagement and cost savings for employers.

Castlight ecosystem partner Foodsmart is a reimagined food marketplace supported by nutrition tools to make healthy eating simple. Their platform empowers people to make sustainable changes to eating behavior and health outcomes through their dietary assessment, personalized meal planning, and custom recommendations for getting food on the table every day. 

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