Meet a Health Hero: Dr. Hans Kersten

"Hunger or food insecurity is tied to a large number of important health problems in children and families such as more frequent infections and hospital admissions, poorer school performance and mental health problems."

» You can vote for Hans here September 20th through 26th. Mark your calendar!

Dr. Hans Kersten

Role: Pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital, Professor at Drexel University College of Medicine and Hunger Fighter

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
I am motivated to be healthy both for myself and the larger community. I do daily core strength exercises to stay strong so that I can be active playing basketball, biking and hiking. These activities provide enjoyment, interaction with my family and stress reduction. Having the opportunity to implement the Hunger-free Healthcare model is a powerful motivator to impact the health of a larger community by improving social, economic and environmental factors that influence patients’ and families’ health and well-being.

Describe a health or fitness-related turning point in your life.
I had a great childhood, but growing up in a large family we struggled financially with my father being unemployed for periods of time. This was very stressful for the family, but my parents were incredibly resilient and creative. They always did odd jobs, fed our large family healthy foods, took us camping and hiking on vacations, and found a way to give their children all the opportunities they needed. These experiences influenced my decision to become a pediatrician, made me aware of all the different factors that affected families and how it impacted their health and well-being.

What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
My policy is to screen for food insecurity and develop the Hunger-free Healthcare model in other healthcare systems and institutions. We have implemented this model at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children over the last seven years and are constantly adding to it. Hunger or food insecurity is tied to a large number of important health problems in children and families such as more frequent infections and hospital admissions, poorer school performance and mental health problems. Also food insecurity is now recognized to occur in urban, rural and suburban communities. We have partnered with a foundation and a local farmer’s cooperative to bring fresh local food to the people who need it the most. This program is called Farm to Families and writing a prescription for fresh produce is called a FreshRX. By addressing food insecurity and poor access to food by writing prescriptions for boxes of fresh, local produce we address key drivers of health and well-being in our children and families.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
The most important part of my health regimen is to make addressing the conditions or determinants that affect health a part of my daily routine as a pediatrician and also working to make it a part of the hospital’s, too. I created the SPEAC pneumonic to guide this process, and we are implementing it at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. SPEAC stands for: S – screen for food insecurity and other determinants of health; P – provide resources (e.g. info about available benefits for families or write a prescription for families to link them to a box of fresh, local produce); E – educate providers and the community; A – advocate for issues around food insecurity (e.g. importance of food stamps to reduce food insecurity); C – care for children in innovative ways.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice or encouragement?
I recommend that people combine their passions to improve their personal health, the health of their family, and the health of the larger community. Combining these efforts is engaging for my family and colleagues, rewarding, can extend the impact of the efforts and inspire the next generation. For instance, one of my daughters has had a food drive for the past seven years and I organize a basketball tournament to support the hunger-free initiatives.

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