New Cleveland Market Addresses Food Insecurity

Cleveland's University Hospitals (UH) has opened its new Food for Life Market, a preventive model to address chronic health conditions by providing free healthful food and consultations with dietitians.

Located in the UH Otis Moss Jr. Health Center, which resides in one of Cleveland's lowest-income neighborhoods, the Food for Life Market takes community-based health care to the next level. Cuyahoga County has the highest number of food-insecure residents and children in Ohio. Specifically, the Fairfax neighborhood has been designated a food desert, defined as an impoverished area with limited access to a grocery store, by Cuyahoga County Board of Health's Creating Healthy Communities program and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.

To address the issue of food insecurity for its patients and residents of the Fairfax neighborhood, UH, following a referral from their physician, will offer them one week's worth of food without charge. Patients also will receive the option to meet with UH dietitians, who can counsel them on dietary needs and optimal food choices. Patients are eligible to receive the food assistance once per month for up to six months and can get an extension by meeting again with their physician.

"Food insecurity can play a major role in health, disease, and well-being," says Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, MD, community impact, equity, diversity and inclusion officer at UH. "Access to the right kinds of food and incorporating that food into your diet can have important, beneficial effects on health, such as lowering blood pressure or blood sugar," she says. "The initiative's full name emphasizes that vital characteristic of this market: Food for Life Market—Where the Health of Our Community Begins."

"More than 20 years ago, UH and Olivet Institutional Baptist Church developed the UH Otis Moss Jr. Health Center to provide high-quality patient care in a spiritually supportive environment," says Thomas F. Zenty III, CEO of UH. "The foundation upon which these services were built is the belief that high-quality health care should be accessible to everyone. As a result, the Center has played a key role in the health of hundreds of families. With the opening of the Food for Life Market, we have the opportunity to further advance the art of compassion by helping our neighbors make optimal food choices that can improve their health."

To determine financial need and be eligible for the food program, families will be asked two "hunger vital sign" questions at their doctor's visit: "Within the past 12 months, did you worry that your food would run out before you got money to buy more?" and "Within the past 12 months, did the food you bought run out before you received money to get more?"

If they answer yes to either one of these questions, a physician at UH Otis Moss Jr. Health Center will write a referral for them to go to the Food for Life Market, which is located within the building. The Center expects to serve 100 families per month.

Food for Life Market will be stocked with a variety of nutritious foods, such as whole grains, dairy, fresh and frozen produce, canned fruits, vegetables, and meat products.

The Center also will hold healthful cooking demonstrations and lessons in meal preparation.

"We will follow the health of these patients over time, and we'll be able to track their progress on specific diseases like diabetes and hypertension by measuring indicators such as hemoglobin A1c and blood pressure," says Anne Leach, MS, RDN, LD, community program director and wellness dietitian at Sodexo Healthcare. "We have developed a 'preventive food as medicine model' to address food insecurity, which we know, if prolonged or repeated, can have negative health consequences."

UH plans to engage participating patients in studies to determine the effectiveness of the program, make refinements, and share knowledge gained with other health care institutions.

— Source: University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center