The Healthy Neighborhood Immersion Initiative: A Community Strategy to Combat Food Insecurity and Chronic Disease
There is an epidemic of chronic disease in our country, the majority of which is largely preventable and reversible. These diseases affect millions of Americans, costing billions of dollars yearly for treatments that slow the progression of disease but do not address the root cause of illness. Eighty percent of our health care costs are related to treating chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, cancer and COPD. Research has demonstrated that 80% of these chronic diseases could be prevented if Americans followed four lifestyle behaviors – not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and exercising moderately for at least 30 minutes daily. Unfortunately, only 3% of Americans adhere to all four of these lifestyle behaviors. Lehigh Valley Community Health Needs Assessment data demonstrate that less than 12% of our population consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. To effectively curb the high cost of health care and improve the vitality of our patients we must treat the cause of health problems rather than just treating the symptoms with medications and procedures. It is time to embrace multi-component, community-based strategies supporting improved access to fresh fruits and vegetables, school/neighborhood gardens, interactive whole-food, plant-based cooking classes, exercise opportunities and increased social connectivity as part of our healthcare toolkit.
The Eat Real Food Mobile Market and Lehigh Valley Corner Store Initiatives were created as part of Kellyn’s Healthy Neighborhood Immersion strategy, helping to make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice in neighborhoods struggling with food insecurity. Launched in 2016, the Eat Real Food Mobile Market has experienced three seasons of growth, community connection and learning opportunities for improvement. The Lehigh Valley Corner Store Initiative, launched in 2017, has shown similar growth and impact, supporting increased access to fresh, nutrient-dense produce year-round in our communities that are most vulnerable to limited healthy food choices. Our 12 weekly Mobile Market sites include elementary schools, senior living facilities, community centers/YMCAs and religious institutions, providing a convenient option for customers to rely on the Mobile Market as their healthy “grocery-store-on-wheels”. Kellyn Foundation’s micro-food hub aggregates produce from 19 local farms, 6 regional PA Preferred farms and non-local produce distributors to provide a wide selection of delicious fruits and vegetables for both the Eat Real Food Mobile Market and the 6 corner stores that participate in the Lehigh Valley Corner Store Initiative. The Mobile Market accepts SNAP benefits via the EBT card, FMNP WIC and senior vouchers, credit/debit cards and cash; in addition to accepting Lehigh Valley Fresh Food Bucks for EBT customers, allowing them to receive up to $10 of local produce daily as a match for their EBT purchase. Educational programming, including food sampling, cooking demonstrations, recipes in English and Spanish, blood pressure screenings and diabetic education, brings complementary services into the neighborhoods while building relationships and trust with our customers. Mobile Market Fruit and Vegetable prescription vouchers for patients with lifestyle-related chronic disease are utilized as a tool for local clinicians to encourage their patients to adopt healthier food options as part of their treatment plan.
Over the course of the past three seasons the Eat Real Food Mobile Market sold more than 30 tons of fresh produce in neighborhoods with decreased access to a grocery store. We have experienced a 99% increase in SNAP sales over the past year, demonstrating the desire for healthy food in the neighborhoods we serve and highlighting the necessity of long-term relationships to affect change. Mobile Market sales to customers in senior living facilities increased 92% over the past year, validating the effectiveness of this strategy to increase fresh produce consumption in our elderly population. Fruit and Vegetable prescription vouchers provided by clinicians have been very effective in encouraging patients to add more fresh produce to their diet, with plans in place to expand the program for the 2019 season. Kellyn school gardens act as another powerful tool to connect children and their families to the produce available in their community, with over 1,700 pounds of vegetables harvested during the 2018 growing season. Involving medical students and residents in all aspects of the Healthy Neighborhood Immersion strategy, from teaching healthy lifestyle curriculum in the classroom and planting school gardens with students to participating in cooking demonstrations and assisting on the Mobile Market, has been a successful method to build relationships with the community they serve as well as add practical Lifestyle Medicine approaches to their healthcare toolkit. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Devising effective and innovative strategies to support our patients in making healthy lifestyle choices is the most urgent priority facing our healthcare system. Are we ready for the challenge?
- Describe relevant statistics regarding chronic disease prevalence and food insecurity.
- Discuss multi-component strategies to increase fruit, vegetable and other whole food, plant-based meal consumption in their community, specifically targeted for areas of food insecurity.
- Summarize a roadmap for creating multi-component food access initiatives in their community; including potential obstacles, funding strategies and opportunities for collaboration with multiple stakeholders.