It seems Western medicine might finally be catching on to the long-held belief of public health practitioners, dietitians, nutritionists, and holistic doctors alike: let food be your medicine.
As part of a recent initiative, food banks and health care clinics are working together to bring fresh produce to low-income households and individuals who are at a high risk of developing metabolic disorders. Food banks primarily serve families at or below the poverty line, of which one-third have a member with diabetes. Furthermore, 55% of people report an inability to source fresh food at their local food banks, and they cannot afford to purchase fruit and vegetables at nearby supermarkets. Due to these startling statistics, 30 food banks nationwide are working with healthcare providers to bring fresh produce to clinics, enabling physicians to write a prescription for healthy food items. The partnership between food banks and clinics has demonstrated significant potential for providing nutritious food to low-income populations, and it offers hope for reducing the prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, overweight and obesity amongst food bank customers. Furthermore, food banks have started raising the bar on the quality of the donations they accept, forming relationships with farmers, and they’re also rescuing blemished and unsold produce from supermarkets .
Recognizing that food banks are a nexus point for improving health and preventing dietary-related chronic diseases, in 2012 the American Dietetic Association (now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) launched the Future of Food Initiative to test their hypothesis. Along with the Feed America organization, they’re conducting the Healthy Cities intervention, which has been implemented in three cities across the country so far. Each pilot food bank site offered food distribution, nutrition education, health screenings, and safe shelters. The initiative demonstrated that an integrative approach to tackling health promotion and food security is both feasible to implement and successful. Currently, it is being replicated in additional cities, and the Academy predicts that schools will gradually evolve into community hubs for food distribution and preventative health care .
As the Healthy Cities initiative continues, dietitians are working alongside Feed America to design resources and programs for schools and community members looking to expand the project. Are you interested in getting involved? Look for a Healthy Cities initiative in a city near you, or support your local food bank’s efforts to provide more fruits and vegetables!
Written by Katie S., University of Washington student intern