How Prescribing Food is Changing Patient Health

Sometimes better health doesn’t come in the form of a pill or new exercise regimen. Sometimes it comes simply from the food put into the body.

ProMedica has introduced two food pharmacies, where patients in need can pick up healthy food — as well as learn how to make better nutrition choices on their own.

Screening Patients for Hunger

As part of the “Come to the Table” Hunger as a Health Issue initiative, physician offices have been screening patients for food insecurity.

“We have learned more and more that hunger and food insecurity is a concern for our patients because patients who are food insecure often have a harder time maintaining their health and they’re at risk for several different health conditions,” said Chloe Plummer, ProMedica clinical dietician. (Read about hunger’s tie to obesity.) “Hunger is very much tied into our patients’ health so we want to treat our patients for food insecurities. It’s actually a form of treatment or a prescription for (them).”

To screen for food insecurity, the outpatient practices and the hospitals ask the following questions:

“We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more. Was that often, sometimes or never true in the last 12 months?”

“The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to buy more. Was that often, sometimes or never true in the last 12 months?”

Those answering “often true” or “sometimes true” to one or both questions may be referred to one of the food pharmacies, located at ProMedica’s Center for Health Services, 2150 W. Central Ave., Pod U, and the Health & Wellness Center, 5700 Monroe St., Suite 307.

There, patients are connected to community resources and walk away with a food bag with up to three days of healthy food for all members of the household. Families may visit the pharmacies once every 30 days for six months as part of their referral.

“The whole idea is food is medicine,” said Plummer, who helped select food for the pharmacies. “They’re getting this referral or prescription to pick up healthy food to help improve their health, so we want to be sure we’re not just providing any food — we’re providing all healthy items. Which can be a challenge to do when we’re primarily focused on shelf-stable items.”

“The whole idea is food is medicine”

Improving Nutrition for Children

In October 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that pediatricians use the two-question screening above to screen for food insecurity among their patient as a way to address health issues from lack of access to healthy foods.

Amanda Sherratt, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians, works at the Center for Health Services on the campus of ProMedica Toledo Hospital. The food pharmacy is just a walk down the steps from her office.

“It’s helping tremendously because we can just send them downstairs, where they can meet with a dietitian, get information on healthy eating, how to read food labels, eating on a budget, recipes and weight management,” Dr. Sherratt said, explaining that educating both parents and youth can help change behaviors over time.

Expecting patients to immediately and drastically alter their diets is not realistic, she said.

“You have to find out for each individual what the issue is, because some kids eat McDonald’s every day,” she said.  “So we say, ‘It’s OK to eat McDonald’s but not every day, and maybe we can offer these choices and that will help you.’ This is not like a pill or like giving them a medication to control blood pressure. This has to be an individualized approach where we spend time with the patient.”

“Just that one snack that an 11-year-old had every day was over 1,000 calories”

Dr. Sherratt gave the example of an obese, 11-year-old female patient who had a bag of hot fries with a bottle of Mountain Dew for a snack every day. The soda contained in excess of 200 calories, while the fries had 140 calories per serving, with a recommended six servings per bag. “You do the math and together, just that one snack that an 11-year-old had every day was over 1,000 calories,” Dr. Sherratt said.

“What we said to her was, ‘You can still eat your hot fries, but instead of sitting down and eating that whole bag, divide it into six portions. Then you have one a day. That’s portion size and calorie control.” The preteen girl agreed to switch out the soda for regular or flavored water, further reducing her daily caloric intake.

The food pharmacies are allowing Dr. Sherratt’s patients to actually see what making smarter choices looks like in the grocery aisles.

“The way we have to think about weight gain, weight control, is that it’s a chronic medical condition,” Sherratt said. “We need education. People really don’t understand what they’re supposed to be eating.”

For more information, contact the Center for Health Services pharmacy at 419-291-8073 or the Health & Wellness Center location at 567-585-0095.


Get a peek inside ProMedica’s Food Pharmacy with dietitian Chloe Plummer in this video.

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