How a ‘Farmacy’ helps create access to healthier food and nutrition education

A 'pharmacy' for health-specific food

When you think about a pharmacy, you may think of a place where prescriptions are dispensed to help improve a person’s health and wellness. But what if that same concept could be used for healthy food?

In New York, more than 2 million people are facing hunger — and in Buffalo, more than a third of the residents live at or below the federal poverty line.

Fighting food insecurity while also helping to build the foundation for good health is at the heart of a new collaborative program led by Catholic HealthD’Youville College and FeedMore WNY.

With the help of a $400,000 UnitedHealthcare grant, the nonprofit health care system in Buffalo, NY, college, and food bank launched a Food Farmacy to help provide proper nutrition to those in need, based on their specific health requirements.

“Food Farmacy” is a unique and innovative service enabling primary care providers to link patients at risk for food insecurity to nutritional, fresh food; ongoing education regarding diet, exercise, and symptom management; and needed support to change behaviors and improve health outcomes.

“When someone goes to the grocery store and purchases canned soup because it’s easy, it's loaded with sodium and it's just not the right thing for someone with congestive heart failure or diabetes to eat,” said Joyce Markiewicz, the executive vice president and chief business development officer for Catholic Health. “So, part of what we really want do is first, provide fresh, healthy food, but then teach people how to eat that food.”

Nutritional experts from Catholic Health, educators from D'Youville and FeedMore WNY work together to educate community members about nutrition, exercise and symptom management to help improve their health outcomes. 

“We'll have cooking classes and group classes so that people can learn together,” said Megan Whelan, the associate dean of the School of Health Professions at D'Youville College. “Our students also have the ability to work alongside the registered dietician, assisting any clients that come into the food pantry and will also learn in this innovative way where they can conduct research and learn about how food is medicine.”

There is a deep connection between nutritious food and good health. Those at risk of food insecurity are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and more.

“Our goal is to go beyond the medical care itself and really look at that whole person,” said Laura Mongeon, executive director for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement in New York. “It's so important to get the nutrition education.”

With the help of the UnitedHealthcare grant, Catholic Health and its community partners are working to build the foundation of better health. In its first year, the Food Farmacy estimates it will serve more than
2,000 people.  

For more information or to get involved with the Food Farmacy, reach out to the Sisters Health Center at the D’Youville College Health Hub.


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