Food Pantries to Help Educate Low Income Diabetics
Posted Aug 18, 2012
The nation's escalating battle with diabetes can't be fought -- let alone won -- solely in the doctor's office. Public-health officials say they need new fronts.
"We are clearly in the midst of a diabetes epidemic, and we haven't been able to adequately reach people -- particularly low-income people," said Dr. Hilary Seligman of the University of California-San Francisco.
"Can we use food banks as a way to do that?"
The idea is at the core of a new study that taps the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and others in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Sonoma, Calif., as a means to deliver and measure the impact of healthful foods, education and treatment services on food-pantry clients with diabetes.
The approach makes sense, researchers say. Low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by Type 2 diabetes. And more Americans than ever -- about 1 in 8 -- are turning to pantries or some other emergency feeding site each year.
"We're seeing a pretty startling number of people who come to pantries with known diabetes," said Michelle Berger Marshall, director of nutrition at Feeding America, the national network of food banks.
She and other organizers met yesterday at Mid-Ohio to discuss the project. "This will allow us the opportunity to collect great data on what works," Marshall said.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation provided $800,000 for the study, which is part of a $3.1 million grant the drugmaker awarded to Feeding America for diabetes efforts.
Locally, Mid-Ohio is working with the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, Columbus Neighborhood Health Centers and Ohio State University on the project. A total of 226 central Ohio residents will be recruited over the next three years. About 26 already are participating. They're being given diabetes-appropriate foods, educational information and have their blood-sugar levels regularly monitored.
But researchers aren't just talking to the participants; they're listening, too.
Colleen Spees, a dietician and assistant professor in the OSU College of Medicine, said the study aims to better understand how poverty and food insecurity affect diabetes management.
"It's a huge public-health burden," she said of the disease. "It trickles down to everybody."
The cost of high-quality foods compared to cheap, calorie-laden fast foods isn't the only problem for low-income diabetics, researchers say. A lack of cooking equipment or cooking skills sometimes is an issue, as is regular access to medical help.
West Side resident Eric Walters, 68, said he recently signed up for the study and already has learned a few things.
Although he keeps his weight in check, Walters no longer allows himself an occasional soda. He's trying to switch to brown rice instead of white, and he now drains and rinses canned vegetables and fruit before eating them.
"Washes off some of the sugar and salt," he said. "I learned that from the dietician."
Matt Habash, president and CEO of Mid-Ohio, said the project fits with the food bank's expanding presence in matters of policy and health. "We think there's a broader role for us to play," he said. "And we can really help with this issue."
©2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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