Nutrition Sense: Hurley Food Farmacy

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In every comic book universe, heroes have a power within them that is revealed as the story unfolds.

Likewise, in the real world there is a power that can be revealed to kids with a little help from their parents, doctors, dietitians—and the staff at Hurley Medical Center. Through programs like their innovative Food FARMacy, Hurley is helping connect area children with the secret superpower of good nutrition. Once harnessed, it can combat forces that might threaten their bodies and health, such as obesity, illness and the effects of lead.

Research proves that a healthy diet and exercise can be just as important as medication when it comes to regulating blood sugar and preventing long-term complications from diabetes. Similarly, good nutrition has been shown to help limit the effects of lead by reducing its absorption into the body. Yet studies also show that many people in Flint (and in other areas across the country) lack access to healthy food. They don’t even have the basic information needed to recognize what constitutes a healthy diet. That’s when Hurley’s Food FARMacy steps in.

After answering two questions about food security, an inpatient at Hurley can be identified as someone who would benefit from the services offered at the Food FARMacy. Those patients receive a referral for two days’ worth of free food for their entire household and can come six times on one referral. Primary care providers can also refer patients through this system. That initial contact is invaluable, according to Susanne Gunsorek, a Hurley dietitian who coordinates the Food FARMacy. “Without their cooperation, we wouldn’t get these visitors,” she said, “It means so much to the people who come that their medical providers asked them.” It’s a new approach to medicine with an old-fashioned vibe, recalling simpler times, when communities took care of neighbors who were struggling. Although the food is free, the act of “shopping” clearly marked aisles in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere is a fun experience for kids and their families. They get to push a grocery cart around and choose from various healthy options. There isn’t a wrong choice—they can have anything— and there are bright, colorful signs to explain the benefits of the different food items.“They like being able to pick their own food,” Gunsorek said. “People tell us how much they appreciate not having to stand in line.”

Thanks to a Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant last April, the program has been able to expand its partnership to other agencies. The funding also enables emergency take-home food bags to be offered on discharge for patients with an immediate need. These bags are packed with non-perishables that require no cooking and no can opener.

From 60 visitors in the first month, to over 1,300 unique patients in December of 2018, representing over 3,400 visits, the Food FARMacy is growing and thriving—quite like the children it aims to help by supplying free healthy food to their entire household. The program also provides much needed education about nutrition.

“As we’re stopping along the way, that’s the opportunity to engage about nutrition,” Gunsorek said. “We encourage coming in once a month,” she added. In those twelve visits per year, Gunsorek and her team find chances to dispense tiny bits of information each time. The Food FARMacy staff and volunteers can also sign families up for resources they might not even realize they qualify for, such as WIC, SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks. Visitors to the Food FARMacy also receive referrals to classes on topics that will empower them to manage their own health through food-related behavior and lifestyle changes.

At the end of the day, the Food FARMacy employees fight over who got the most hugs—another superpower the kids who come in to see them have in abundance.

These Nutrients Can Be Your Greatest Allies In Fighting Lead

Iron: Keeps too much lead from getting into a person’s body.

Found in: Red meat, fish, chicken; green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale or collard greens; whole grain cereal bread and pasta; dried fruit like raisins and prunes; and beans, peas and lentils.

Vitamin C: Increases the body’s ability to absorb iron, with the added bonus of improving skin and bone health. Vitamin C works with iron (just like superheroes!) to keep the lead from getting into your body.

Found in: Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit as well as juices made from citrus fruits; tomatoes and tomato juice; peppers, broccoli, potatoes, Brussels sprouts; peaches, strawberries, pears, watermelon.

Calcium: When your bones are strong, it keeps the lead out, and nothing contributes to strong bones like getting plenty of Calcium in your diet.

Found in: Milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese; green leafy vegetables, including kale and mustard and collard greens; calcium fortified foods, such as orange juice, soy milk and tofu; canned salmon and sardines.

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