Imagine this… You are struggling with losing some extra pounds and may have a chronic health condition (or two). Your medical bills just keep rising and the number of prescriptions you take just grows. You feel like absolute crap and can’t get motivated to stick to an exercise and diet plan. You are stuck in a rut and need some serious help.
You’d expect your doctor’s office to be the first place to get that help, right? In an ideal world, yes, but in many cases doctors aren’t trained to help patients with nutrition and exercise. They are trained in medical school on how to treat a condition with medication, which is only reinforced by drug reps that frequently stop by their offices to market their products.
Prescription medication is like a band-aid. It will treat the symptom and you may feel better for a little while, but does it actually fix the root cause of the problem? It takes many years for the body to develop chronic conditions, so it makes sense to me that it will take more than just popping a pill to heal them.
I can go on and on about the failures I see in our current medical system but I’m all about focusing on the positive, so I’m going to talk about a healthcare firm that seems to be doing it right (yay!). I heard a piece on NPR this week about Geisinger Health System’s fresh food pharmacy pilot program for 180 low income patients with Type 2 diabetes, which is aimed at helping them to change their diets and lose weight.
Under the program, patients receive free, fresh foods every week and work with registered dietitians to learn how to prepare healthy meals. Instead of going home from the doctor with a prescription to fill at their local pharmacy, they go home with five days worth of nutritious food.
The results seen so far have been life-changing for the participants. All of the patients have seen decreases in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, lost weight, and many are on track to reduce their medication in the future. Also, just as important, they are saving money. Program leaders expect about $24,000 in health care costs will be saved for these patients, but it is still too early in the program to provide a definite amount.
This study highlights a few things, the first being that changing dietary habits and eating real food that is grown in the ground can really make a difference in health, to the point that patients may be able to reduce or come off of medications in the long-term.
It also highlights a huge barrier to health, which is access to fresh food and the knowledge of what to do with it in the kitchen. Outdated government subsidies favor corn and soybean crops, which make up the majority of U.S. farmland. It’s understandable; farmers stand to make the most money if they grow them as opposed to other things. But the abundance of corn and soybeans has led to products such as high fructose corn syrup other processed ingredients that make up a large part of what sits on grocery shelves.
Subsidies have also helped to make processed food cheap and more easily accessible to the masses. Sadly it is hard for many people to get fresh food, let alone afford it. Processed food is so ingrained in our culture that I’m sure some in our younger population don’t even know what fresh food looks like. Basic nutrition and how to grow vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, beans, peppers, and squash in a garden should be taught in primary school. And, call me crazy, these types of vegetables are what should be subsidized and made more readily available by our government.
Lastly, it points out a change that is slowly taking place in our healthcare system. Until now our healthcare system, referred to by yours truly and this NPR piece as a “disease-care” system, has been largely reactionary. We treat an illness after it occurs; we don’t focus on what to do to prevent illness in the first place. But this program is an excellent example of prevention-oriented medicine, which I believe is a field that will only continue to grow.
I hope that this program continues to get press and the recognition it deserves for the strides it is making in patient health and outcomes. They are truly making a difference in the long-term health of these people and their families, who also benefit from the fresh food pharmacy. This program is a shining example of the future of medicine in America. A future that is currently just a tiny speck on the horizon but slowly, oh so slowly, getting closer.