When it comes to managing diabetes, diet plays a critical role. For many low-income patients, nutrient-dense foods can be hard to come by, increasing the risk for health complications.
Geisinger Health System is working to combat diet-related illnesses. With the launch of the Fresh Food Pharmacy, plan members can fill prescriptions for free food that helps keep diabetes under control. Partnering with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, the Fresh Food Pharmacy offers grocery bags brimming with healthful ingredients each week to diabetic plan members signed up for the program. Meal plans and free groceries are provided by the Degenstein Foundation and Weis Markets, a Pennsylvania-based food retailer.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains are best for keeping diabetes at bay, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, low-income patients often live in food deserts where access to healthy foods is limited or have difficulty affording nutrient-rich foods. The Fresh Food Pharmacy aims to combat the issues of access and affordability.
“When you’re on a tight budget, you’ll eat whatever food is filling and cheap,” says Fresh Food Pharmacy Program Champion Andrea Feinberg, M.D. “Unfortunately, that food tends to provide a nutritional void. The clinic’s patients often experience not just temporary hunger, but food insecurity — the enormous physical and psychological impact of not knowing where your next meal comes from. That can have huge, long-term health consequences. If you’re poor, your risk of disease is higher. Your risk of dying is higher. We’re trying to close the food gap when it comes to social inequality.”
Geisinger’s program goes beyond what’s on patients’ plates. Participants have access to a health manger via phone to discuss the foods provided and healthy recipes. Case managers, physicians and pharmacists are also available to plan members to provide education and support. Geisinger is helping customers develop healthy habits through free wellness classes, dietary consultation and workshops.
Eating habits in food insecure households are often adopted by the entire family. With the help of the Fresh Food Pharmacy, individuals can model healthy habits for their families. The Fresh Food Pharmacy is not only helping patients manage diabetes, but also improving well-being for individuals and building healthier communities.