In early 2020, more than 38.2 million people in the United States lived in food insecure households, indicating that they lacked reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.1 Hence, it was no surprise that when COVID-19 and its economic disruptions hit, already vulnerable populations found themselves in greater need.2
That’s why when Kemi Babagbemi, MD, heard about the online Healthcare Workers Versus Hunger contest on Twitter, she wanted to get involved. Babagbemi, who is vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the department of radiology at Weill Cornell Medicine and a member of the ACR Commission on Patient- and Family-Centered Care’s Outreach Committee, led a team of radiologists who competed in the 2021 online competition. The Bulletin caught up with Babagbemi to learn more about the contest and why food security is important for every healthcare worker to address.
What is Healthcare Workers Versus Hunger?
Healthcare Workers Versus Hunger is an annual, Twitter-based competition that raises money for food banks across the world. It was started in 2020 by Angela Weyand, MD, a pediatric hematologist oncologist at the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital, and Tatiana Prowell, MD, associate professor of oncology in the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Program, to address food insecurity and help those impacted by hunger during the pandemic. Participants donate money to any food bank they choose and submit/tweet the receipt or proof of donation to the team captain. Teams are made of different healthcare specialties, and the team that donates the most amount of money wins.
Why did you decide to participate?
I’d been involved in raising money for vulnerable groups for quite a few years now, but this was the first time I’d organized it over social media. I had just started actively participating on Twitter as part of my job as vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Weill Cornell. It was at the height of the pandemic in 2020, and most people were “doomscrolling” — using social media feeds to read more and more bad news. I wanted to find a way to harness social media as a force for good. I came across Healthcare Workers Versus Hunger and noticed there weren’t any radiologists involved. I was too late to participate in the 2020 contest, but I made sure the second time around I’d be ready.
Around Thanksgiving of 2021, when the contest was announced, I noticed radiologists were still not signing up, so I made myself team captain, created a hashtag for our team (#RadsForFood), and started getting the word out to my colleagues on Twitter. I spent a lot of time tweeting information about food insecurity, and why initiatives such as Healthcare Workers Versus Hunger are important and encouraging people to donate. We ended up combining our radiology team with oncologists, hematologists, and a few other specialties, to form #MultiDFoodBoard, and by the end of the contest, we won second place. Our team alone raised over $110,000 to donate to food banks across the country. The contest raised over $400,000 in total for food banks in less than two weeks.
How can the radiology community get more involved in initiatives like this?
I encourage radiologists and all healthcare workers to learn about local food banks. Two of my other favorite organizations are No Kid Hungry and Feeding America. I also encourage radiologists to join me in participating in this year’s #HCWvsHunger contest on Twitter. Monetary donations to food banks go farther than donating food, as most food banks have ways to buy nutritious food wholesale or in bulk versus what you are able to buy at a store with the same amount of money.
Participating in initiatives such as this helps to raise radiology’s profile. At one point in December 2021, #HCWvsHunger was trending more than #Omicron. All across Twitter, users could look at the hashtag and see our specialty’s efforts to raise money for vulnerable populations.
Why is it important to get involved in addressing food insecurity?
I’d like to refer to a quote from the late Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, who said, “Only when we link our efforts to those of others committed to initiating virtuous social cycles can we expect a future in which medicine attains its noblest goals.”
I tell people I’m a people advocate rather than a patient advocate, because intervening before someone becomes my patient can help them better in the long run. I want to tackle immediate risk factors early on while larger forces work on the complex systemic issues. Food insecurity can have particularly long-term effects. Children who face prolonged food insecurity can experience developmental delays and have a risk of chronic illnesses such as asthma and anemia. In adults, food insecurity is linked with diabetes, hypertension, and other negative health outcomes.3 If we can do something for people now, why wait until they’re in our offices?