Food Banks and Healthier Eating

The Lempert Report
May 11, 2017

This is a bigger priority than you think.

We’ve reported before how food banks across the country are implementing merchandising tools to increase the amount of “better-for-you-foods” that their recipients are selecting.  

Catherine D’Amato, the CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank tells WBUR radio that  "Twenty years ago, we couldn't move a carrot. It wasn't in our culture, it wasn't in our commitment." But now, she says, food banks have evolved, and fresh, more health-conscious food has become a priority. The idea that "food is medicine, food is health" is more mainstream, D'Amato says. "Walk into one of our member pantries now, and it looks like a Whole Foods." 

"Now for the first time in the U.S. and in Boston, incentives are in place for certain health systems to be concerned about the nutritional aspects of their patients' care because they hold the financial risk," says Lauren Taylor, a Ph.D. student in health policy and management at Harvard Business School told the station. 

The Greater Boston Food Bank announced last year that it was the first major food bank in the country to hire a medical doctor. In her first year at the Greater Boston Food Bank, Dr. Kathryn Brodowski, a preventive medicine physician, launched a public health initiative aimed at improving patients' health and, ultimately, lowering health care costs. 

She says that "hunger and health are intertwined, and that we know that food insecurity is linked to chronic disease in both adults and children. Health care and hunger relief organizations are natural allies and we need to engage with this sector. 

So what are they doing? An idea that supermarkets, with or without clinics might want to consider: free, monthly mobile farmer's markets at several local community health centers that serve low-income patients. Volunteers set up tables overflowing with six to eight varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables — beets and string beans, lettuce, tangerines, apples and grapes — distributed by the food bank.  

Any patient from the health center (whether they are "prescribed" produce by their doctor, or learn about the market from the center’s staff) can collect up to 25 pounds of free fruits and vegetables per family at a time.  Smart …and healthy!