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An Rx for Good Health: A Fresh Food Pharmacy

Nov 10, 2016 12:44PM ● Published by Erica Shames

Hippocrates, hailed as the father of modern medicine, is credited as being the first to propose “food as medicine and medicine as food.”

More than 2,500 years later, Geisinger Health System has introduced a literal translation of those prophetic words with the launch of its Fresh Food Pharmacy, a new program that offers food-insecure, diabetic patients in Shamokin, PA., prescriptions for free foods aimed at keeping their disease under control.

“Diabetes, as well as other diet-related illnesses, are a serious issue in low-income communities,” explained Andrea Feinberg, M.D., program champion for the Fresh Food Pharmacy and an internal medicine physician who specializes in pulmonary and critical care. 

Thanks to the generous support of the Degenstein Foundation and Pennsylvania-based Weis Markets, free groceries and meal plans are provided to diabetic patients enrolled in the program.

The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetics eat vegetables, fruit and lean proteins, and choose whole-grain foods over those made with refined grains or flours. The organization also recommends avoiding excess salt, high calorie snack foods and foods high in saturated or trans fats.

Following those guidelines, Dr. Feinberg noted, can be a challenge for low-income patients because the fresh and nutrient-dense foods that can reverse or slow the disease’s progression are difficult to afford.

“When you’re on a tight budget, you’ll eat whatever food is filling and cheap," Dr. Feinberg added. "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.”
 
The Fresh Food Pharmacy is stocked with items consistent with American Diabetes Association guidelines. The Fresh Food Pharmacy and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, Harrisburg, will be partnering to provide weekly grocery bags filled with fresh produce, lean proteins and healthier sugars. Because clients might not be familiar with some of the foods, recipes, menus and regular phone calls from a health manager are provided. 
 
Additionally, case managers, physicians and pharmacists are closely involved to assist these patients with education and support while monitoring their condition and their changing medication needs.  Free diabetes wellness classes, dietary consultation and workshops are also provided to teach healthy eating habits and incentives are being worked into the program to encourage participation.
 
The Fresh Food Pharmacy program was purposely piloted in Shamokin where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data, more than 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line. According to the 2015 Geisinger Shamokin Area Hospital Community Health Needs Assessment, 12 percent of Shamokin residents over the age of 20 have diabetes. Also, about one in three Shamokin residents is considered food insecure.
 
Those statistics are among the worst in the nation.
 
“Nearly 50 percent of Shamokin residents are predisposed to diabetes, mostly because of obesity, placing Shamokin at a higher rate than regional, state and national averages,” said Dr. Houssam Abdul-Al, the primary care physician treating patients in the program. “If we really want to control diabetes, we need to remove obstacles for our patients. And providing free, healthy food is a lot less than the cost of treating complications from diabetes, including cardiovascular disease, nerve and foot damage, eye problems, kidney disease.”
 
Although the program is in its early stages, according to registered dietitian Anna Ziegler, they’re already seeing results.
 
“One patient told me her blood sugars have already improved based on the nutrition instruction provided, so much so that she was already able to reduce her insulin levels,” Ziegler said. “It doesn’t take long to see results with daily blood glucose levels. And our clients are also relieved that their food dollars are stretching much farther now.”
 
The overall benefits of the program, Dr. Andrea Feinberg stressed, are multi-layered and far-reaching. 

“We know that eating habits formed by food insecurity are adopted by the entire family. And because family members often have the same inherited risk factors, those who do not currently have a diabetes diagnosis can benefit from the healthier foods their relatives bring home from the free pantry. Our hope is that the Fresh Food Pharmacy enables parents to model healthy eating habits for their children.”

And healthy food is good for everyone, she said.

“Eating correctly for diabetes means fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates. These very same foods prevent heart disease. They’re anti-cancer. This is about creating a healthy community for our existing patients and for generations to come.”

About Geisinger

Geisinger Health System is an integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record and the development of innovative care delivery models such as ProvenHealth Navigator® and ProvenCare®. As one of the nation’s largest health service organizations, Geisinger serves more than 3 million residents throughout 45 counties in central, south-central and northeast Pennsylvania, and also in southern New Jersey with the addition of AtlantiCare, a National Malcolm Baldrige Award recipient. The physician-led system is comprised of approximately 30,000 employees, including nearly 1,600 employed physicians, 12 hospital campuses, two research centers and a 510,000-member health plan, all of which leverage an estimated $8.9 billion positive impact on the Pennsylvania economy. Geisinger has repeatedly garnered national accolades for integration, quality and service. In addition to fulfilling its patient care mission, Geisinger has a long-standing commitment to medical education, research and community service. For more information, visit www.geisinger.org, or follow the latest Geisinger news and more on Twitter and Facebook.
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  • chttp://engage.pcad.edu/winter2018

    02/10/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Young Artists Academy for Grades 6.7.8.9 YS13, Saturday, January 27 - March 17 10a.m. - 12 p.m....


  • Youth Studio Art I for Grades 1.2.3

    02/10/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Youth Studio Art I for Grades 1.2.3 YS11, Saturday, January 27 - March 17 10 a.m. - 12 p.m., $1...


  • Youth Studio Art II for Grades 4.5

    02/10/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Youth Studio Art II for Grades 4.5 YS12, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, January 27 - March 17 10...


  • Intergenerational Drawing (8 & up)

    02/10/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Intergenerational Drawing (8 & up) CE 189, Saturday, January 27 - March 3 10 a.m. - 12 p.m., $1...


  • Short Story Writing

    02/10/2018
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Short Story Writing CE 208, Saturday, January 27 - March 3 (no class on February 24) 10 a.m. - ...


  • Intro to 3D Printing

    02/10/2018
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Intro to 3D Printing: Saturday, February 10th 1-3 p.m. Learn about 3D printing and 3D modeling....


  • The 135-year-old Berlin Philharmonic is consistently ranked as one of the best orchestras in the ...


  • February 10, 2018 | 7:00pm Treat your Valentine to a concert featuring Nashville Recording Chr...


  • Books Undone

    02/11/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/12/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Adobe InDesign

    02/12/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Adobe InDesign DES 154, Monday & Wednesday, January 29 - February 28 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit,...


  • Illuminated Letters

    02/12/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Illuminated Letters CE 206, Monday, January 29 - February 26 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $195 Matt Chapma...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/13/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Homeschool Art Studio Ages 6-13

    02/13/2018
    10:30AM — 11:30AM

    Homeschool Art Studio Ages 6-13 YS 40, Tuesday, January 30 - March 20 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m....


  • Books Undone

    02/13/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • Homeschool Physical Education

    02/13/2018
    01:00PM — 02:00PM

    Students engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity through a variety of enjoyable game...


  • Business Practices for Creatives

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Business Practices for Creatives DES 200, Tuesday, January 30 - April 3 6 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., 1 c...


  • HTML5 & Website Design

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    HTML5 & Website Design DES 155, Tuesday, January 30 - April 3 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit, $475 ...


  • Drawing (Portrait & Figure)

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Drawing (Portrait & Figure) CE 91, Tuesday, January 30 - March 20 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $245 Evan ...


  • Intro to Social Media Marketing

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Intro to Social Media Marketing SM 101, Tuesday & Thursday, January 30 - March 1 6 p.m. - 9 p.m...


  • Acrylic Painting and Mixed Media

    02/13/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Acrylic Painting and Mixed Media CE 238, Tuesday, January 30- March 6 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., $215 Ju...


  • "The Blues Show"

    02/14/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    What does "blue" mean to you? Make work that shows it -- the color blue, Blues music, blue in th...


  • Homeschool Hangout

    02/14/2018
    11:00AM — 01:00PM

    Every other Wednesday 11-1p.m. during the school year beginning Jan. 17th-Apr. 25th.Parent/child ...


  • Books Undone

    02/14/2018
    11:00AM — 07:00PM

    Books become the canvas for contemporary artists in this national juried exhibition. Exhibition i...


  • Adobe InDesign

    02/14/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Adobe InDesign DES 154, Monday & Wednesday, January 29 - February 28 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., 1 credit,...


  • From a graffiti artist in the favelas (slums) of Brazil raising awareness about domestic violence...



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