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Communities and city officials in Philadelphia are declaring gun violence a public health issue. People are scrambling to find the roots and possible solutions. It is clear that poverty, gun access, and drug activity intersect with firearm use— but what about the food on your plate?

Is it possible that the most violent areas are also food-insecure  areas?

Last year, Emory University Trauma Surgeon Dr. Randi Smith published Food Insecurity Predicts Urban Gun Violence Poverty, a study documenting whether food insecurity and gun violence are connected. Smith found the two take place in the same areas.

“We looked at the areas where a lot of our patients came from that were injured by firearms and lo and behold, the same heat maps looked almost exactly the same,” Smith said. “Where there was food insecurity, there was gun violence.”

The study analyzed 1600 individuals who suffered from gunshot injuries from 2012 to 2018, and whether they were receiving nutritious food or had means to access food. In addition to finding gunshot injury incidences  in areas with food insecurity, most are also in communities of color. Smith’s research proves food insecurity is another socioeconomic factor that contributes to gun violence like poverty, inadequate housing and education, racial disparities, etc. 

Smith says the data supplies an opportunity for social service programs for hunger relief or nutrition, to be added to the list of future gun violence prevention strategies. 

“It’s not that a hungry person is going to be shot,” Smith says. “I’m just saying that the same risk factors, the same root causes really do lead to the worst consequences and gun violence is just one of those consequences, and when we address the root causes, we will actually crossover and address many other issues.”

So how can addressing food insecurity as a new social determinant for gun violence lead to changes?

Educating social services programs are one way. Bebashi: Center of Hope invited Smith to discuss her research in March during an online event.  Bebashi is a Philadelphia non-profit, full-service HIV/AIDS program for low-income Black and Brown Philadelphians. Its services focus on health education, hunger relief, and social services. 

Beabshi’s health enterprise zone coordinator and Germantown resident Janice Tosto found Smith’s research and invited her to the online event in March. 

“I thought, well, what can we do in our space?” Tosto said? “We address food insecurity, (but)what can we do in our space to be part of the solution to ending some of this gun violence?”

While food security is essential after gun violence and trauma have occurred, it can also be a preventative method. Tosto says services like Bebashi can contribute by “being able to give folks the nutrition that they need so that they’re not thinking about, you know, picking up that gun because they have to go rob a store.”

Additionally, Dr. Smith’s research paves a new way for doctors to question and interact with patients. Smith is now advocating for a “culturally-appropriate” food insecurity screen during doctor visits, especially with trauma patients.

“When patients come in, and they’ve been injured, and then they’ve had an emergency surgery on their abdomen or anywhere, and they go out and they don’t have nutrition, they’re not going to heal those wounds,” Smith says. “All of this is just a cycle of increased cost to the patient, to their families, to the community and to the hospital system.”

In the meantime, Smith is also advocating for nutrition-centered programs to be utilized for trauma patients. And Bebashi will continue to extend their hunger-relief programs in Philadelphia. The group is currently working with the Philadelphia School District to open a food pantry with all public schools.

To learn more about Bebashi’s food insecurity programs, visit their website.  For more information about Germantown resources, including hunger relief programs, visit our resources page.

This article is part of The Toll: The Roots and Costs of Gun Violence in Philadelphia, a solutions-focused series from the collaborative reporting project Broke in Philly. You can find other stories in the series here and follow us on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.

Equally Informed Survivors is a free service from our partners at Resolve Philly, providing local resources and solutions reporting to Philly residents impacted by gun violence in Philly. Text SURVIVORS to 73224.