Increasing access to healthy food to address food insecurity and chronic illness | MedStar Health

Increasing Access to Healthy Food to Address Food Insecurity and Chronic Illness.

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Pictured above: Angela Roberson, lead dietitian for Food Rx, discusses the benefits of access to healthy and nutritious foods for patients living with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

It wasn’t long ago when Roger Nicholson would reach for a bag of chips or a package of corn curls when he wanted a quick snack. Now, he prefers to snack on bananas or toast with sugar-free jelly.

The 61-year-old living with diabetes has made significant lifestyle and diet changes, thanks to a MedStar Health program that helps patients with chronic illnesses or those who cannot access nutritious foods to improve their health.

Nicholson learned about the MedStar Health program, Food Rx, during a recent hospital stay at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. After discovering that Nicholson struggled with managing his diabetes and accessing healthy foods, the hospital Collaborative Care Team referred him to Food Rx.

“They asked me a few questions about my situation, and I told them I was going through a bit of a tough time,” says the Baltimore resident. “They took time to listen to me and understand my circumstances so they could help me.”

Graphic showing how MedStar Health identifies patients in need of help with food insecurity.

Patients are often referred to Food Rx by their primary care physician, cardiologist, wound care doctors, or, like Nicholson, during discharge from a hospital stay. The Food Rx program is available to patients at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and MedStar Harbor Hospital.

Angela Roberson, lead dietitian for Food Rx, assesses each patient to determine their specific needs, then helps develop a plan to connect them with the appropriate resources.

“We find out whether there’s food insecurity, lack of knowledge about the foods they should eat or social issues creating barriers for them,” Roberson said.

Patients visit Roberson once every two weeks and receive their frozen and nonperishable foods from the Food Rx pantry during their visit. All fresh produce is delivered to their homes through a partnership with Hungry Harvest.

The program provides meals for the patient and their entire household. For example, if a patient qualifies for 10 meals per week for a family of four, they will receive 40 meals to ensure everyone eats healthy foods.

Nicholson looks forward to carrots, apples, bread, eggs, and other fresh food deliveries. He indicates that thanks to the education he receives through the program, he knows what and how he should eat.

“I’m learning about portion control, which is really helping me keep my blood sugar levels under control,” he says. “Now, even when I eat cereal in the morning, I measure my scoops instead of just pouring it in the bowl.”

Changing his eating habits has lowered Nicholson’s A1C, which measures blood sugar levels, from a dangerously high 11.0, down to 8.0 in three months.

“There is no medicine that can replicate the kind of results that we’re getting in the period of time that we’re getting them,” Food Rx’s Roberson says. “The patients are embracing the opportunity and taking advantage of these resources to live healthier lives."

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To learn more about MedStar Health’s programs and initiatives across Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region that are contributing to healthier communities, visit Health or email