“Food should be considered a treatment option for our patients,” -Lee Hammerling, MD, chief medical officer and chief physician executive, ProMedica, Toledo, Ohio
Food Prescription programs make it easier for low-income patients and their families to access the fresh fruits and vegetables they need in order to ensure that they are eating balanced, healthy diets. The programs generally begin with a partnership between a hospital and a local farmer’s market or CSA (community supported agriculture) to increase access for people who need access to nutritious food to improve their health.
"Although Food Prescription programs are relatively new, pilot programs have shown promising results in improving health outcomes in communities where they have been implemented," wrote Molly Miller in an article published by Stakeholder Health in 2014.
According to Miller, there is already some evidence that the food prescription programs are working. She notes that the The Fresh Prescription Program, which seeks to build partnerships between the local food system, the healthcare system, and low-income patients in the Detroit area, has shown some signs of promise. See above video about the Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) Center.
Roadrunner Food Bank Opens Healthy Foods Center
|Produce at Railyard Market|
The health partners participating in the program are three Community Dental Services clinics and two University of New Mexico Hospital clinics. Here is how it works: the five clinics do a sort of triage among their patients. "Patients are asked about their food situation. If they answer in a way that indicates they aren’t getting enough to eat or are skipping meals, the health care partner issues a ‘prescription’ to come here,” said Alissa Barnes, Roadrunner Food Bank’s director of community initiatives.
The prescription provides for one weekly trip to the Healthy Foods Center for a year, where the clients can “choose the products that are right for their home,” Barnes said. The caveat: only clients with these referrals can get food from the on-site pantry.
As the name of the program implies, the focus of the program is entirely on health. “We have a lot of patients with Type II Diabetes, so we don’t offer them anything with added sugar. For those with hypertension, we offer them the low-sodium vegetables. For those with vitamin D deficiencies, we offer more whole grains, tuna fish, and milk so they can get that extra Vitamin D," said Angela Smith, a diet technician with Promedica, a health care provider in Toledo, Ohio. Read more about Promedica's Food Pharmacy.
Promedica has partnered with the Alliance to End Hunger and several local health care providers around the country to examine the connections between health and hunger. The two organizations held a conference on this topic in partnership with Presbyterian Community Health in June, 2015. One of the keynote speakers was Ambassador Tony Hall, director emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger. Other cities have hosted similar conferences, including Columbus, Ohio last fall.
The partnerships between health care providers and CSA's has worked well in other parts of the country. In Portland, Zenger Farm partnered with Multnomah County Health Department and the National College of Natural Medicine in a program that was started in 2014.
According to Barnes, Roadrunner Food Bank's pilot program in Albuquerque will continue to the end of the year, and then “other health care clinics will be slowly rolled in.” The Healthy Foods Center will eventually incorporate other services, including immunizations, tax preparation, nutrition education and health screenings, she said.
Presbyterian Community Health, which recently recently launched a program offering a free healthy meal to children and youth seven days a week, is likely to join the food prescription effort in a more direct way soon. The program has already created a strong partnership with La Cosecha CSA. (See more in this video).