Dr. Pat Cantrell
Working Tirelessly to End Hunger

Five years ago when Dr. Pat Cantrell was invited to give a lecture about food insecurity at a community planning conference, she said, “Honestly, it made me realize I didn’t know much about hunger. When you see someone who is overweight you don’t think they need food.”

Later when Dr. Cantrell asked the mother of one of her patients if he was eating fruits and vegetables, she replied that fresh produce was too expensive. The mother didn’t realize that her family qualified for food assistance. Dr. Cantrell got on the phone, dialed 2-1-1, a robust referral system in San Diego, and asked for a Spanish translator. In short order the family was signed up for CalFresh benefits.

This experience made Dr. Cantrell ask herself, “How many patients am I missing? Waiting for patients to tell me that they are having trouble buying healthy food isn’t the answer.”

Realizing that if she didn’t know about the prevalence of hunger and the connection between food insecurity and obesity, other doctors probably didn’t either. Dr. Cantrell began educating everyone from hospital administrators to physician assistants about how to recognize the problem and what to do to help.

Today, Dr. Cantrell is spearheading a movement to end hunger in San Diego County. She developed the San Diego Food Insecurity Coalition in partnership with the San Diego Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Hunger Coalition, San Diego Food Bank, San Diego Chapter of the California Medical Association and 2-1-1.

“The Champion Provider Fellowship made me realize that change isn’t going to happen until somebody does it. I can be that somebody.”

Dr. Pat Cantrell, San Diego County Pediatrician

Dr. Cantrell also started a pilot program in September 2017 where all patients at the 12 Kaiser Permanente clinics in the county will be automatically screened for hunger and referred to needed resources. As part of the program, San Diego 2-1-1 will also screen for all of the social determinants of health in addition to hunger. According to Dr. Cantrell, “there’s a disconnect between available services and the people who need them. We are the bridge to make sure all services are utilized.”

As president of the San Diego Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), she is reaching out to all of the pediatric medical groups and pediatricians throughout the county and beyond. She’s helping Champion Provider Fellows in other California counties with hunger screening tools, and doctors in Texas and Colorado have contacted her wanting to replicate the hunger screening and referral project.

California Department of Public Health, Champions for Change and UCSF