The rising prevalence and cost of Type 2 diabetes has doctors at Geisinger Health System turning to food as a form of medicine. They’re prescribing free, fresh food to low-income patients.
…Over the past year, he and about 180 patients with Type 2 diabetes have been participating in a pilot program aimed at getting them to change their diets and lose weight. They receive free groceries of healthy foods every week.
Shicowich has lost about 45 pounds, and he is now much more active.
The Geisinger Fresh Food Pharmacy is stocked with healthy pantry staples, like oatmeal and peanut butter, as well as fresh produce.
Each week, Shicowich and the other participants come to the food pharmacy. In its new incarnation, it looks more like a grocery, with neatly stocked shelves filled with healthy staples such as whole grain pasta and beans. The refrigerators are full of fresh produce, greens, low-fat dairy, lean meats and fish.
The participants meet one-on-one with a registered dietitian. They’re given recipes and hands-on instruction on how to prepare healthy meals. Then, they go home with a very different kind of prescription: five days’ worth of free, fresh food.
…Shicowich’s health has improved. His blood sugar and blood pressure have dropped so much that if he keeps on track, his doctors say they will reduce his medications.
…the costs associated with diabetes in the U.S. now exceed $240 billion a year.
Once you consider that price tag, Geisinger’s program can look like a bargain. Over the course of a year, the company will spend about $1,000 on each Fresh Food Pharmacy patient. All of the participants in the program are low-income, so the gift of the food eliminated a key obstacle to eating well.
…It’s still early days, and the team plans to fully analyze its first year of data. But here’s what it estimates so far: “A decrease in hemoglobin A1C of 1 point saves us [about] $8,000,” Feinberg says.
And many of the participants have seen a decline in hemoglobin A1C of about 3 points. “So that’s [about] $24,000 we’re saving in health care costs,” Feinberg says. “It’s a really good value.” Geisinger is now in the process of expanding the program to new locations within Pennsylvania.
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