According to a report published by the CDC in 2020, 34.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes and another 88 million with prediabetes. In Arizona, statistics show that roughly 806,000 individuals live with diabetes. As November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, Valleywise Health continues its education and prevention efforts in Maricopa County throughout the public health safety net system. Food insecurity in low-income communities, with higher rates in the Hispanic and American Indian community, is one of the driving factors in developing diabetes. To combat this, Valleywise Health, in partnership with the Arizona Women’s Board and St. Mary’s Food Bank launched their Food Pharmacy Program at Valleywise Community Health Center – South Phoenix/Laveen in early 2020 and recently expanded to their South Central location.
Valleywise Health Foundation has received two grants totaling $150,000 from the Arizona Women’s Board to implement the food pharmacy pilot program, which allows 160 patients diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes, access to healthy food staples like fresh produce, proteins and whole wheat grains. The patients can visit the two participating locations twice a month for six months to choose the food they would like. That food is recorded by the program coordinators along with the patients’ vitals like glucose levels and more to monitor progress and make suggestions to the patient. The overall goal is to prevent kidney disease and improve diabetes outcomes in the communities it affects most, while educating those patients on meal planning and management of their food choices.
Program coordinators Tina Younger, MD, and Sandra Chmelnik, BS, RD, CDE are hopeful the program will provide the tools to these patients to better understand the disease so they can manage their illness at home. Younger cites that “Diabetes is the number one reason for kidney disease, and medication is not enough. Food impacts diabetes, and diabetes leads to kidney disease. By offering healthy food staples like proteins, cereals, and vegetables to at-risk patients, we aim to make improvements in diabetes and help prevent kidney disease in Maricopa County. We are excited to have launched this new program addressing food insecurity in patients with diabetes.”
In addition to this pilot program, Valleywise Health offers diabetes care and education programming at all 12 of its community health centers around the Valley along with their main medical center. The diabetes care management team is comprised of three registered dieticians and one nurse, three of which round at all the community centers with Chmelnik working with inpatients at Valleywise Health Medical Center. Chmelnik’s work with inpatients spurred her interest in food insecurity as a driver of diabetes which drove her to create the progam.
“We saw the need to address food insecurity firsthand when we launched our mobile pantry at the medical center back in 2017, distributing 4,000 pounds of food each month to more than 650 people one Saturday a month,” says Chmelnik. “Roughly 35% of recipients identified they have a family member with diabetes and acknowledged that the food they received would improve their health. By operating this food pharmacy, we can provide the healthy food these patients with uncontrolled diabetes need, monitor their progress and help them build knowledge that will help them manage their disease. Our hope is that this awareness trickles down to their family members, preventing future cases of diabetes.”
Currently the food pharmacy program has capacity for more patients so to learn more about Valleywise Health and its diabetes care and management services or to book an appointment, please visit valleywisehealth.org/services.