People have known for centuries that it’s important to eat well for good health. Even so, Americans die every day from preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Poor diet is at least partially to blame for thousands of deaths each year in the United States.
On top of premature death, poor diet leads to millions of dollars in preventable medical expenses each year. These costs can wreak havoc on a family’s life savings while insurance costs skyrocket for everyone involved. Insurance companies and health care providers try to think of new ways to tackle this ongoing and growing problem while improving the quality of life for the people that they treat.
Enter the Fresh Food Pharmacy
Geisinger Health System is determined to try a new approach. They’ve opened what they call their fresh food pharmacy. It’s located at a hospital in Pennsylvania. The fresh food pharmacy is the result of a pilot program that’s meant to help people with diabetes lose weight and improve their diets with free food and diet education. Each week, participants receive healthy foods from the pharmacy at no charge.
On the surface, the food pharmacy looks a lot like a grocery store. The shelves are organized with healthy favorites like whole-grain pasta, beans and fresh produce. Participants can choose from fish, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meats. The food they get is enough to last them for five days.
Participants Get Education for Healthy Eating
Participation in the program includes work with a trained dietitian. Participants learn what to eat and how to prepare it. They learn how good eating helps them improve their health. Participants get recipes for what to make with their food, and they’re taught how to cook. Users report that the program helps them prepare healthy meals and lead a more active lifestyle.
Paying the Price
While critics scoff at the up front price tag for the program, others point to the $240 billion that diabetes-related treatment costs in the United States each year. Geisinger reports that the cost of providing food alone is about $1,000 per patient, per year. There are also related expenses such as the dietary education and the costs to administer the program. The company piloting the program says they look for low-income participants who can’t afford to eat well without help.
The company doesn’t have exact figures, but they report that they anticipate that the program is going to save health care costs in the end. They’ve tracked participant hemoglobin A1C levels and report that they’ve declined. These declines, they say, save them an average of $24,000 in medical costs per patient. The company says that this makes the program a good value, and it improves the quality of life for participants who are able to lose weight.
The program also gives food to others in the participant’s household. The goal is to help the entire family develop better eating habits. The company sees this as necessary because eating habits are often influenced by others in a person’s household.
Prevention Medicine in the United States
Most health care in the United States reacts to problems after they happen. When a person gets sick or contracts a disease, they go to the health care system for treatment. The health care system doesn’t put a lot of thought into preventing problems before they start. As health care providers and insurers look for ways to cut costs, prevention medicine might be the future.