A bag of food from the food pharmacy

Optimizing pediatric diabetes management: Integrating a vital food pharmacy approach

A bag of food from the food pharmacy

Weighing approximately 50 pounds, the food packages are rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats, and include fruits and vegetables.

Social Determinants of Health are an essential focus in providing equitable diabetes care. Food and nutrition are integral parts of Type 1 diabetes (T1D) and Type 2 diabetes (T2D) management. Food insecurity increases the risk for T2D and is associated with higher A1C levels and hospitalization in those with diabetes.

The big picture

A study published in the American Diabetes Association Journal Diabetes assessed food insecurity among families with diabetes during their clinical visits. As of June 2023, 62% of the participants screened positive for food insecurity. In response, Children’s National Hospital partnered with the Capital Area Food Bank to create a food pharmacy within the diabetes clinic that supplies an average of 117 families per month with additional groceries to support those affected by diabetes.

What does this mean?

These packages are designed to sustain a family of four for three days. Weighing approximately 50 pounds, pantry essentials are rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats, and include fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the packages come with recipe cards that offer helpful suggestions for replacing or supplementing items, enabling individuals to obtain nutritious food beyond their diabetes appointments.

“We hope that these findings and future research will help bring to light the importance of food security, in addition to medication, in managing chronic illness,” said Alexis Richardson, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., food pharmacy founder and diabetes educator at Children’s National. “This research also opens up the possibilities for other studies on the effect food insecurity and Type 2 diabetes.”

What’s been the hold-up in the field?

Providing 50 pounds per set to over 100 families each month requires a substantial area for a food pharmacy. The storage facility must adhere to food safety standards and comply with Department of Health regulations. Additionally, all staff members are required to be ServSafe certified. Shortages in staffing and funding pose significant challenges. Clear procedures are needed for tasks such as placing orders, receiving food deliveries, managing loading docks and handling the refrigeration and shelving of bags.

Over the years, Children’s National has engaged with numerous programs, sharing their experiences and challenges to offer guidance and assist other institutions in establishing their own food pharmacies.