Adults with low food security are far more likely to suffer from five common chronic diseases than those from homes that are food secure, a 2017 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS) found. In fact, the risk of hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, asthma and COPD increases 4.3%-11.2% among food-insecure adults. Another recent study found that subsidized diets could save the U.S. more than $100 billion in healthcare costs.
Doctors, insurance companies and hospitals are taking note—and doing something about it. Here’s an example of four recent programs created to help improve patient outcomes with food.
1. Farm to table
Grow2Heal, a program at Homestead Hospital in Homestead, Fla., employs a full-time educator, chef and farmer. Thi Squire, community garden project manager for Grow2Heal, aims to combat the epidemic of chronic disease by growing healthy food and harvesting it for use in the hospital and neighboring community. Now in its fourth year, the garden grows heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cauliflower, kale, herbs, turmeric, chamomile, pineapples and more.
“Everything that we harvest goes directly to our kitchen. This past year I harvested at least 3,000 pounds of produce that went directly into our kitchen here at Homestead Hospital,” Squire told CBS Miami.
Homestead Hospital Executive Chef Drew Thomason told the news station that the hospital has the truest definition of farm-to-table, dishing out menu items such as fresh basil pesto, zucchini ragout and flatbread pizzas made with fresh tomato sauce.
2. Plants on the plate
Adventist Health Howard Memorial (AHHM) in Willits, Calif., provides patients with fresh produce from a 5-acre garden it created in conjunction with the Howard Foundation. The Commonwealth Garden provides produce to inpatient diners as well as the hospital’s farm-to-fork restaurant, which serves more than 150 meals per day to staff and community members.
“When we are discussing heart health, weight loss, diabetes management or post-operative nutritional care, patients are excited to hear that the tasty food they have been enjoying in our hospital is the basis of their prescribed diet at home,” Anna Herby, registered dietitian and diabetes educator at AHHM, told The Willits News. “By exposing our patients to a wider variety of plant-based options, we are not only helping them heal during their stay with us, but also encouraging them to prepare healthier meals at home.”
AHHN has also eliminated processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages and deli meats, from all of its menus.
3. Food-focused follow-ups
New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) in Wilmington, N.C., estimates that approximately 20% of its patients are food-insecure. To help, NHRMC came up with a two-pronged approach to feeding patients after they’re discharged from the hospital. With a grant from the Duke Endowment, NHRMC hired a clinical outreach dietitian whose job is to visit food-insecure patients in their homes and follow up about their hospital-recommended nutrition plans, according to Star News Online. NHRMC also provides patients identified as food-insecure with healthy food boxes upon discharge. The boxes contain items that will provide 2,000 calories per day for two weeks.
4. Help for staff
Northwest Texas Healthcare System (NWTHS) launched a program called S.H.I.N.E., which stands for Stopping Hunger, Improving Lives of Northwest Employees. The program was developed to help NWTHS employees who are food-insecure. Based on the Snack Shak model from Snack Pak 4 Kids, a Texas-based organization and partner of NWTHS that provides backpacks to food-insecure K-12 students, S.H.I.N.E. collects food donations to hand out to employees in need.