Aug 16, 2016

Connecting the Dots Between Hunger and Health

Dr. Kathryn Brodowski
Dr. Kathryn Brodowski

As a specialist in preventive medicine and GBFB’s first Director of Public Health and Research, Kathryn Brodowski, MD, MPH, is passionately committed to “connecting the dots” to solve health problems. After seeing many patients diagnosed with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, lung disease, depression, and obesity, she chose to focus on the bigger picture.

What struck me was not only the volume of patients facing chronic health issues, but the number who returned to the hospital for exacerbations of their illness. I realized ‘Band-Aids’ aren’t enough.” She explained. “I wanted to get at the root causes of my patients’ poor health, and that’s when the world of food insecurity opened up to me. I saw that access to nutritious foods played an important role in preventing or helping to treat their disease.”

A 3-Pronged Approach

At GBFB, Dr. Brodowski is working with our new Food Security Task Force to bridge the connection between hunger and health, while also forging partnerships with community health centers to address food insecurity through a 3-pronged approach.

First, she is leveraging GBFB’s powerful logistical and distribution capacities to provide community health centers and their low-income patient populations with onsite Mobile Market fresh produce distributions. Participating patients choose from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and receive healthy recipes and nutrition information. To maximize impact, these Mobile Markets are being piloted in communities with high levels of food insecurity as identified by GBFB’s hunger mapping technology.

Secondly, she is encouraging community health centers to implement Hunger Vital Sign™ screening, originally developed by Children’s HealthWatch, a simple 2-question method to identify patients struggling with food insecurity.

Finally, she wants to empower providers with practical steps they can take when a patient screens as food insecure. She is developing a ‘tool kit’ to connect food insecure patients with the food sources and community resources that are vital to their health. Instead of existing in silos, medical and community organizations can collaborate and contribute to patients’ overall health.

Healthier Lives, Healthier Communities

It is an opportune time for GBFB to be furthering our work to bridge hunger and healthcare. The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) emphasis on quality of care and lowering treatment costs for chronic health conditions is putting pressure on the medical field to collaborate with organizations like GBFB to address the underlying issues causing or contributing to disease.

Our belief is that healthcare and hunger-relief organizations are natural allies. By working together we can further each other’s mission – to End Hunger Here and improve health. We’re particularly focused on vulnerable populations, like seniors and children.

“Research tells us that kids who don’t have access to nutritious foods have poor overall health and are at higher risk for behavioral and psycho-social problems,” concludes Dr. Brodowski. Hunger and its associated stress have life-long, negative impacts. Parents can face unthinkable decisions when they can’t afford medical treatment and healthy food for their child. An ounce of prevention with consistent access to healthy foods may go a long way towards stabilizing chronic health conditions and preventing costly trips to the emergency room.”

Prior to joining GBFB, Dr. Brodowski served as chief preventive medicine resident at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), where she drafted food insecurity policy recommendations, worked as a nutrition instructor for low-income families, and tested her ideas through a “Food Insecurity Clerkship.”

“A recent survey found that 85% of physicians point to unmet social needs, such as lack of access to nutritious food, as directly leading to worse health. Addressing those needs is vital,” notes Dr. Brodowski. “But doctors and nurses need training and support to help identify food insecure patients and to connect them with needed resources. GBFB’s community health center Mobile Markets represent expanding and deepening clinical-community linkages.”

May 19, 2016

Staci's Story

Staci and her daughters
Staci and her daughters

A single mother, Staci works full-time as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) but still can’t afford all the nutritious food her young daughters need to stay active and healthy. Each month, she joins almost 400 other struggling families to receive fresh produce and other nourishing foods at GBFB’s School-based Pantry at the Connery School in Lynn.

This is Staci’s story.

“I’ve never not had a job. Since I was 16 years old, the only time I ever took off was a few weeks after each of my daughters was born. Even while I was studying to get my CNA license, I worked. But it’s not easy – especially when the prices keep going up, but my pay stays the same – and no matter how hard I work, I can’t seem to get ahead. Once you get down, it’s very, very hard to get back up.

“Every parent wants to be better than their parents were, but I have felt like I couldn’t give my kids everything they need and deserve. It’s a very stressful feeling in the bottom of your stomach, when you know that you want to do something for them, or you want to give them something, and you can’t.

“Most people don’t realize that just because you’re going to a food pantry, it doesn’t mean you’re not working, or unwilling to work, or didn’t get laid off. It doesn’t mean something happened so you just can’t work! It just means you need help.

“The Connery School Pantry makes it a little easier on me. And it’s better for my girls because they wake up in the morning and they know there’s something for breakfast, because we get whole grain cereals and bread from the pantry. They can come home from school and know there are snacks that are good for them. They know at dinnertime, there will be meat as well as some kind of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Compared to when we didn’t have the school pantry, I’ve noticed a positive difference in their grades at school. In addition to the healthier foods, I think it’s because I’m not as stressed about everything, so they’re not as stressed about everything. It all works in some strange way, that it helps everybody.

I honestly don’t know what I would do without the school pantry.”

 

 

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Feb 22, 2016

Lisa's Story

Lisa
Lisa

At 35, Lisa’s diagnosis with aggressive Multiple Sclerosis threw her stable home into chaos and poverty. Maintaining a balanced, nutrient-dense diet is critical to helping her avoid the malnutrition associated with MS that causes fatigue and worsens major symptoms. Lisa gets the healthy, made-from-scratch meals she needs to fight her disease from Community Servings, a local food and nutrition program that receives a variety of food from The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB).

“My husband and I had just bought a house to renovate in Quincy, and I remember walking on the front grass one day and feeling a strange numbness in my feet. My doctors told me I had a virus and it would go away, but for five years, I lived with what I believed to be a virus, suffering from a number of side effects including stumbling and clumsiness. Finally, after more tests, I was diagnosed with primary progressive MS, which is extremely fast moving. I was in a wheelchair within five years of being diagnosed.

“Our kitchen wasn’t wheelchair accessible and the nature of MS made the act of cooking extremely difficult. Before Community Servings, I felt guilty that I was no longer able to prepare nutritious meals for my husband. I would often share my hospital meals with him to ensure that he would eat.

“Now that we are receiving weekly, home-delivered meals from Community Servings, we have enough to eat. I don’t have to make sacrifices in my diet or feel guilty that I am able to eat, while my husband is not. We don’t have to worry about food preparation and we are able to look forward to having a variety of good meals every day, that include wild rice, homemade soups and fresh in-season vegetable like butternut squash and asparagus.

“MS has made me extremely bony and thin, but I still have a large appetite. I went from an empty refrigerator and not eating to having three nutritious meals daily. We couldn’t, at the same time, care for my physical needs and do all that is required to prepare nutritious meals. Community Servings, and the food they receive from GBFB, is truly the best option for ensuring we have access to a variety of balanced meals every day.”

 
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